School Guidance Centers
This article presents an overview of school guidance centers in U.S. public schools and the functions, staffing, and activities they offer. School guidance centers differ among schools due to funding, school district support, staffing, and school size. However, all school guidance centers play an important role in the student populations' educational, social, and career development. Staffing levels at guidance centers vary according to the school population but primarily include master's level counselors certified by the state's professional teaching standards board. With an increase in the identification of at-risk issues in schools, guidance centers find themselves providing a range of services from individual to group counseling, consultations to staff, parents, and community members, and information referral to services and programs outside the school system.
Keywords Academic advising; Career counseling; Counseling services; Disciplinary services; Guidance department; Prevention services; Student services; Student records
A school guidance center in a public school is a central location for students to access programs and services that assist in their development. Through the years, school guidance centers and their structure have changed to meet the needs of growing communities, changing student populations, and school districts' philosophies on the appropriate programs that most effectively serve students. The school guidance center is also known as an academic advising center, counseling services, student services, or the registrar or student records. Regardless of the name, what was once a service primarily sought out by college bound students is now a broad provider of programs in counseling and other services for all students. School size, geography, and staffing can significantly affect the range of services offered by a guidance center at a public school. Overall, there are five general areas that school guidance center staff focuses on:
• Program management
• Guidance services
• Coordination and community partnerships, and
Other ancillary roles include testing services, job placement, college fair planning, and coordination with administration on disciplinary issues. Many schools have adopted competency based guidance programs which track student results after they have accessed the services provided.
While these centers exist at the elementary, middle or junior high school level and high school level, the high school guidance center has the broadest and most comprehensive services. In elementary grades parent education plays a central part of a guidance center's functions. Guidance centers at this grade level focus on educating parents on how to help their children in their growth and development. Middle/junior high and high school guidance centers focus on academic and career preparation. High school centers often focus on career counseling and personal-social development issues. They often collaborate with teachers on work-based learning experiences available through school curriculum and courses. In high at-risk populated schools there is also a trend towards school health based centers. The purpose of these health centers is to focus on preventative health issues and work with guidance staff to identify students' physical and mental health needs.
Technology continues to add dynamism to the roles and function of school guidance centers with computerized guidance systems.
Applications: Five Primary Functions of a School Guidance Center
One of the key functions of a school guidance center or student service center is the planning and management of annual programs. Programs can range from parent education, testing schedules, and other school-wide projects such as drug prevention education. Herr, Cramer & Niles (2004) recognized the need for systemic planning for guidance programs with five stages that include:
- Developing A Program Philosophy
- Specifying Program Goals And Behavioral Objectives
- Selecting Alternative Program Processes,
- Describing Evaluation Procedures, And
- Identifying Milestones (p. 331).
With increased diversity in schools it is important that efforts are made to make sure that all students are being adequately served when planning programs and services. An important part of planning is identifying interventions that will help the school's particular student population. This task is often completed through a school wide committee lead by the School Guidance Director. Overall, the planning and management completed by the director of guidance and staff can contribute to the success and use of a center at a public school.
According to McCurdy (2003), guidance services are for "assisting individual students or groups of students through psycho-educational curriculum presentations consisting of broad goals and objectives for a specified target population…" (p. 5). School guidance centers work with staff to balance a range of individual and group guidance opportunities through school counselor's schedules. Woodward & Malone (2002) share information about developmental guidance programs that include an area that they call "responsive services." This area "is an ongoing daily responsibility in which the counselor intervenes on behalf of those students whose immediate personal concerns or problems put their continued personal-social, career, and/or educational development at risk" (p. 175).
Gysbers (1995) sees career plans that students develop and use as a critical part of the individual planning part of a guidance program. In the Southern Regional Education Board's (1994) report on practices in High Schools that Work (HSTW) guidance was redefined as "a program designed to help all youth make informed decisions about a program of study that prepares them for continued learning at work and in an educational setting" (p. 8). In some schools, a guidance curriculum is established as a course, or is infused across academic coursework through collaboration with academic and vocational teachers.
Consultation is a practice that school guidance center staff conducts regularly. Staff can provide consultation to teachers to help a student struggling with an academic subject or they might meet with parents regarding their child's special education services needs and review their Individual Education Plan (IEP). Another example of consultation is working with the school's administrator to understand student performance data released by the State or district. Often staff needs assistance with knowing how to be more effective in their consultation skills. Miles (2002) notes that "topics for professional development include[d] cross-cultural counseling, strategies for parent involvement, small-group counseling, public relations, and skills in consultation" (p. 20).
School guidance center staff also consults with law enforcement officials and school disciplinary services to best address the most effective approaches to student behavior problems and their resolution. Addressing curriculum issues such as the development of prevention programs and remedial services are just two of the areas where teachers might work in a consultation relationship with school guidance center staff.
Guidance center staff also coordinates and links students with resources in their communities. The Utah State Office of Education's (2002) implementation of work-based learning recognizes that this approach allows "students to master the skills they need to become successful throughout life and to familiarize themselves with the concepts of exploration and career decision-making and provides the motivation to do better in academic areas" (p. 3). Through the process of student education plans and student educational occupation plans guidance can be provided to assist students in this educational program of study through community partnerships.
Schools at the high school level work in partnership with community members to provide opportunities for students to receive hands-on learning in the workplace. According to Lewis, Arnold, House & Toporek (2007), guidance counselors play a unique role in the advocacy of students and can keenly work with community groups to share issues related to student development in an effort to help them. Assisting families with community information services and getting the support of community agencies is the job of a school guidance and counseling program (Kuhl, 1994).
Two critical tasks that school guidance centers complete each year for students is course registration and compliance with maintaining student records. Evans & Ward (2002) suggested school districts use an internet/telephone registration system. According to the authors, the counselor's role would be to "guide, advise, inform, and in general be an information resource to students" (p. 123) in assisting them with such...
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