School counselor receives national recognition

Riverside Poly High School was one of a small number of schools in California named as a national model school by the American School Counselors Association, and Riverside Poly Counselor Yuri Nava was named as one of the top five school counselors in the country. (See a complete list of California schools awarded.)

Nava and Principal Michael Roe attended a ceremony at the White House with former First Lady Michelle Obama to accept the honors. In addition, when they returned, Nava and Riverside Poly were honored on the California Assembly Floor by Assembly member Jose Medina, to help kick off National School Counseling Week.

L-R, School Counselor Yuri Nava, Assembly member Jose Medina, and Principal Michael Roe pose on the floor of the State Assembly recently when Nava was honored for her work.

It’s not easy to become a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP). Schools have to show that comprehensive counseling services are offered to all students, using data to drive practices. “School counseling programs are collaborative efforts benefiting students, parents, teachers, administrators and the overall community,” Nava said.

She suggested that school counseling programs should be an integral part of students’ daily educational environment, and that school counselors should be partners in student achievement.

The ASCA National Model provides the means with which school counselors and counseling teams can design, coordinate, implement, manage and evaluate their programs for students’ success. It provides a framework for the program components, the school counselor’s role in implementation, and the underlying philosophies of leadership, advocacy and systemic change.

Nava said the counseling department submits a document similar to a WASC accreditation where each component of the program is evaluated and narratives are provided with the reasoning behind the prevention, intervention, and post-intervention services that were delivered. Programs are evaluated in 12 areas and documentation and narratives have to be submitted for each.

Before the presidential election, Nava was honored at the White House by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“The First Lady Michelle Obama has really given school counselors professional parity alongside teachers and administrators,” Nava said. “When allowed to do our job, and are our services, talents, and skills are not mismanaged, we significantly impact student achievement in three areas: academics, college/career, and social/emotional domains.”

“For many reasons this recognition as one of the top five school counselors in the nation was very significant on a personal note. First of all, the fact that our profession was elevated. As the First Lady shared, when students have access to a school counselor they are more likely to attain a higher education. Secondly, school counselors are rarely seen in a leadership capacity. School counselors are involved in so many aspects of education and are almost like quasi-administrators since we work alongside school leadership and support teachers and students.”

Nava noted that the impact of school counselors’ work can be measured by academic achievement data, attendance data, and behavior data.

his national honor carried a significant emotional aspect for Nava, as the first Latina to be chosen as a Top Five ASCA Counselor of the Year.

“I immigrated to the United States at the age of three and became a US citizen in college,” Nava said. “With so much negative commentary being shed on Mexican immigrants recently I was proud to be standing in the East Room of the White House, being acknowledged by the Obama Administration for my service to students in this country, as well as my contributions to the field.”

It was no easy feat to make the cut either, as Nava had to submit documentation and other supporting information about her role in educational leadership, advocacy and student achievement to a panel of 12 reviewers.

Still, despite having a counselor recognized on a national level, California lags woefully low in school counselors.

“The recommended student-to-counsel-or ratio is 250 to 1,” Nava said. “California is the second worst state next to Arizona in student to counselor ratios, averaging 500-800 students on our caseloads, which is twice the national recommended average.

“According to a report from the California Department of Public Health, California students are attending our schools having experienced one or more adverse childhood traumas. Also, 60-70 percent of students K-12 experience stress.”

Schools are being forced by tight budgets to choose other programs to increase A-G, attendance, improve behavior, and college-going rates.

“However, access to school counselors, targets all these and more,” Nava said. “There is significant research in our field that indicates that school counselors can impact student achievement through our services because we are providing comprehensive services and applying it from a whole-child perspective.

“When you think about it, AVID caters to college and career but doesn’t take care of a student’s social/emotional needs, same for budgeting hundreds of thousands of dollars into just after school tutoring. However, a recent research study proved that school counselor services improved math and ELA test scores in RAMP schools versus Non-RAMP schools.”

Nava also pointed out that small group counseling has a significant impact on student attendance and academic achievement and closing the achievement gap with minority groups.

The California Healthy Kids Survey data indicates that students in California are seven times more likely to attend college when they have someone they feel connected to at school. Having school counselors with lower caseloads would positively impact attendance, behavior, and grades.

“A school counselor takes care of all students’ needs and we provide ongoing year-round services,” Nava said. “If our districts invested in school counselors, there would not be a huge need for programs that target at-risk students. We would be able to provide those prevention, intervention, and post-intervention services that our students need.

“The sad part is we have been forced to give minimal services because of the high caseloads we face, not leaving much time for implementing preventative programs that can help students. We are not being used to our full potential and we have vast training and knowledge of human development that can so greatly benefit students.”

Nava said RAMP was a very successful program for them. Some of the results she highlighted were an increase in student completion of FAFSA, increases in the percent of credits completed for grades 9-11, and an increase in the completion of A-G courses. Perhaps, most encouraging, 90 percent of African American students passed all of their courses with a grade of C or better.

“Last year, that number was only 20 per-cent of African American freshmen (who did so),” Nava said. “This was after core curriculum lessons, individual student planning, and small group counseling services. We are happy to say we closed the achievement gap at Poly!”

ACSA member Michael Roe, principal of Riverside Poly High, said the importance of school counselors such as Nava “cannot be overstated.”

“If we believe in the notion that we value what we monitor—and counselors monitor students’ well-being and learning—nothing would be more influential and meaningful than to tackle student-counselor ratios and get it to 250:1,” Roe said. “Counselors are the foundation of our work because they are focused on student’s well-being.

“Yuri has been instrumental in connect-ing with students and establishing hope. We have a ton of students going through the motions in public education that do not believe that their tomorrow will be better than their today. This is a very dangerous thing for us as a profession, as well as the societal impact. Yuri and our counselors work tirelessly to connect the dots for students along the way so that can see and affirm their role in their academic, social and professional aspirations.”

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