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Guidance counselors see success with graduations

Guidance counselor Karen Brownell right speaks with Morgan Township High School junior Kody Diehm about class scheduling Thursday May 15

Guidance counselor Karen Brownell, right, speaks with Morgan Township High School junior Kody Diehm about class scheduling on Thursday, May 15, 2014. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 23, 2014 11:04AM



Thousands of Northwest Indiana high school graduates will walk across the stage to receive their diplomas in the next month.

That rite of passage represents years of hard work put in by students, teachers, parents and administrators. In particular, guidance counselors help keep students on track by monitoring grades and test results, encouraging students to apply for college, apprenticeships, and scholarships, and making sure their coursework aligns with their goals.

Although the end of the school year is a busy time, guidance counselors always have several irons in the fire at once, Portage High School guidance counselor Kathy Shrader said.

“It’s busy, but it’s really rewarding to see the kids doing some positive things,” Shrader said. “On Wednesday, we’ll have our scholarship night. We’ve pretty much wrapped up college applications. Seniors and juniors are taking AP tests, and kids that are seniors that still need to pass the ECA, the makeup finished (Friday).”

Bobbie Jones, a guidance counselor at West Side Leadership Academy in Gary, is responsible for 226 seniors at the school, so she always has her eye on their progress toward a diploma and beyond.

“It’s pretty much the same thing over the entire year: We have to make sure students are on track for graduation and see if anything can be done between now and graduation date to ensure they complete the requirements,” Jones said. “Also, we try to make to help students make a seamless transition from high school to their post-secondary endeavors.”

Shrader said improved technology helps gauge where students are academically at a moment’s notice. That’s particularly helpful in a year like this where the school year ends later that usual due to snow days.

“It’s definitely a quicker turnaround,” Shrader said. “Teachers were asked to give us preliminary grades at the end of May to show us where kids are standing. Because of technology, we can look in computer see if they have missing work. We’ll start calling kids to encourage them to keep going, and we’ll be calling parents, who are very appreciative because they don’t always know.”

Jean Hope, who is a guidance counselor at Lew Wallace STEM Academy in Gary, said the job has changed in her 23 years of working with students.

“It’s far more demanding,” Hope said. “As we see society and our communities deteriorating, families come with more needs and we connect with extended services through social agencies. We have an Urban League empowerment program that two seniors participated in for the past four years.”

Guidance counselors supervise hundreds of students — most of whom are continuing at school — so scheduling is a large part of what they do as well as evaluating test results for student remediation. Morgan Township High School Principal Dolores Mueller said much of the testing takes place before the end of the school year.

“That’s a good thing because it allows us to determine what kind of extra help do students need,” Mueller said.

With more students taking dual-credit courses through colleges, counselors make a point of emphasizing of taking those courses seriously since it’s the start of their college transcripts.

The quick turnaround between the end of classes and graduation means guidance counselors are working hard to determine who qualifies for graduation as well as academic honors. Shrader said students are working hard regardless of their class rank.

“Another nice thing we have is a program for credit recovery,” Shrader said. “I have one student who was behind and didn’t have time to catch up during the day. But he’ll stay after school to catch up on a computer near my office. He was being teased by some students, but he said, ‘I have to graduate.’ ”

The job can be particularly rewarding when the “light bulb goes on,” Hope said.

“We follow students from freshmen to their senior years, and we develop a rapport with them,” Hope said. “We’ll see someone who is a second semester freshman, whose grades aren’t good but who wants to do better. When you notice their grades going upward, it’s a great feeling.”



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