Counselors always there for students
Coming from a small school district, I know what guidance counselors do: They help you work through problems, from the trivial, like a fight with a friend, to the life-changing, like a school shooting. Today, because of budget cuts, too many students in Philadelphia don't have access to these essential professionals.
As a student in Montgomery County's Springfield Township School District, I needed my guidance counselors for a host of reasons.
In fourth grade I spent a substantial portion of my days walking down the cinder-block hallways of Enfield Elementary from my classroom to the guidance counselor's office.
Sitting at a child's-size table, I sobbed and blew my nose while describing the latest drama with my classmate Kate to Ms. Alston. Even though I told a similar story day after day, Ms. Alston would advise me and have me leaving her office with dry eyes and a new attempt to salvage my friendship with Kate.
After Dec. 12, 2006, I learned how important guidance counselors could be. My classmate Rehema and I were walking up the ramp that separated the eighth-grade wing from the main building, giggling and singing "All I Want for Christmas Is You." Suddenly other students were running down the ramp, looks of terror on their faces. Some screamed, "Gun!"
Shane Joseph Halligan, a 16-year-old junior, had taken an AK-47 from his family's gun safe, and brought it to Springfield Township High School. After Shane fired warning shots into the ceiling and walls, students and staff either evacuated the building or were put on lockdown. Shane committed suicide in the hallways I walked down every day, in the school where I spent the rest of my high school career.
Shane's suicide shook my small town and my close-knit high school to its core. After a candlelight vigil and a day off from school, we returned with an ache in our hearts and confusion in our heads. Our three guidance counselors were assisted by counselors from neighboring districts to help our school community understand this tragedy. They helped us talk about what happened and begin to come to terms with Shane's decisions. They used their counseling skills to help us accept our grief, anger, and sadness, and begin to heal.
A few short years later, I needed my guidance counselor for entirely different reasons. While planning for college, I became overwhelmed by SAT scores and AP testing. One freezing winter morning during junior year, I stepped into Mrs. Marcucci's cluttered office.
Mrs. Marcucci helped me find an SAT tutor, plan what scores I needed to get into my dream school, and decide when I should take the test. During my senior year, Mrs. McGowan sent hundreds of high school transcripts to scores of universities across the country for me and my classmates.
I can't help but think about these experiences with guidance counselors as I read about the budget crisis at the School District of Philadelphia. Recent layoffs included 238 guidance counselors. Even after the district rehired some counselors, as well as others, it's clear that there simply aren't enough to adequately serve 134,000 students.
The only home I've ever lived in is only minutes from Chestnut Hill, a Philadelphia neighborhood. However, because of my zip code, I had access to three talented, trained professionals. These three counselors served about 600 students in one building. In Philadelphia, an itinerant guidance counselor can be responsible for more than 2,800 students in schools across the city.
Philadelphia students would be fortunate to have a full-time guidance counselor in-house. They'd consider themselves lucky if the person recognized their face and knew their name. However, most city students do not have access to a guidance counselor, whether in times of personal tragedy or in stressful moments like sorting through the college application process.
Without the help of my guidance counselors, I would have gone through fourth grade crying every day. I would have gone through Shane's suicide without access to a trained professional at school to help me sort out my feelings. I would have gone through college applications alone and confused, with no idea where to send my transcript, or how to even get my transcript to a college.
As I read about the budget issues in Philadelphia schools, I realize how lucky I am to have gone through a school district where my guidance counselor had an open door, someone who knew me, my classmates, and my siblings.
Victoria Holt is a communications major at West Chester University. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.