Blog: Latino Ed Beat

On Road to Academic Success, School Counselors Matter

How will budget cuts affect the academic achievement of Latino (and other) students?

As part of “A Day in the Life of a Classroom,” an interesting project with ethnic media outlets, New American Media examines the impact of funding cuts in classrooms. Among the issues studied are classroom size, school closings and increasing demands on teachers.

One piece looks at an often overlooked piece of the educational puzzle: school counselors. At James Lick Middle School in the San Francisco Unified School District, funding cuts resulted in the layoff of two Latino school counselors, who had made inroads in reaching out to students and their families. About 65 percent of the school’s 600 students are Latino.

The school principal noted that “she has already seen the negative effects from letting go of her Latino counselors. “(Losing) access to parents who speak Spanish only has been a major effect,” Bita Nazarian told the reporter.

Nazarian said she worries that the loss of the counselors will set back efforts to reduce suspension rates, truancy and absences. Last year, the number of suspensions at the school dropped to 79 from 168 in 2006-2007.  Truancy also fell from 30 percent in 2006-07 to about 22 percent.

At the high school level, counselors can help guide students to higher education, assist them in laying out a college-prep course of study and point them to financial aid sources. In schools where counselors are overworked or not responsive to students, many first generation college-goers can fall short of prerequisites, miss out on essential SAT or ACT tests or get lost in the college application maze. That can lead to lower college attendance rates for Latino students, whose parents may be immigrants unfamiliar with the American education system.

As school districts in your coverage area make budget decisions, examine who or what is being cut. Is the counseling staff being trimmed? What are the counselors’ student load? Does the demographic make-up of the counseling staff reflect the student demographics? Are there Spanish-speaking counselors available for non-English speaking parents?