Culturally competent collaboration: school counselor collaboration with African American families and communities.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Student counselors (Practice)
Student counselors (Social aspects)
Cultural competence (Social aspects)
Authors: Moore-Thomas, Cheryl
Day-Vines, Norma L.
Pub Date: 10/01/2010
Publication: Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409
Issue: Date: Oct, 2010 Source Volume: 14 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 241277781
Full Text: Emerging literature on school-family-community partnerships suggests positive educational and social outcomes for students (Koonce & Harper, 2005; Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). This article discusses the historical and contemporary factors and barriers that affect African American students and their families as they partner with schools and communities. The article explores cultural competence as it relates to effective collaboration and interactions as well as an understanding of the political structures and sociocultural realities of African American students, families, and their communities. Specific models, strategies, and recommendations for school counselors' and counselor educators" effective work with African American students and families within school-family-community collaborations are discussed.


School-family-community partnerships are relationships through which school personnel partner with families and other community members to help children succeed in school (Bryan, 2005; Epstein, 1995). Borrowing on the principles of systems approaches to counseling (see Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008), this may be familiar territory to school counselors. Moreover, school-family-community partnerships may serve as significant forms of social capital for African American families. That is, these partnerships move beyond the more passive, one-way acts of collaboration like volunteerism to more engaged collaborations that affirm the assets, capacities, and strengths of each partner and provide African American families with the connections to information, resources, and understandings they need to help children meet mutually determined academic goals (Bryan; Bryan & Henry, 2008). The benefits of partnership are reciprocal, however. Although school-family-community partnerships can help African American families, they also can offer school personnel the cultural skills and insights they need to fully engage in ways that most benefit students and lead to quality educational experiences that deepen and broaden students' learning communities (Koonce & Harper, 2005; Scheurich, 1998; Williams & Baber, 2007).

Given these significant findings, this article discusses the historical and contemporary factors and barriers that affect African American students and their families as they partner with schools and communities. We also explore cultural competence as it relates to effective collaboration and interactions as well as an understanding of the political structures and sociocultural realities of African American students, families, and their communities. In conclusion, we discuss specific models, strategies, and recommendations for school counselors' and counselor educators' effective work with African American students and families within school-family-community collaborations.


African American families are an integral part of the rich tapestry of the United States. With roots in indentured servitude and slavery, the African American family has survived the African holocaust, or Maafa (Leary, 2005; Wells-Wilborn, Jackson, & Schiele, 2010), with values and behavioral patterns that are visible today. These include extended family orientation, reciprocity and support among family members, reverence and support for ciders, and cooperation and shared responsibility in child-rearing (Logan, 2001).

Current demographic data suggest that no single profile adequately characterizes the African American family. Making up about 13.5% of the U.S. population, African Americans live in diverse family systems in rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). The average family size in the African American community is three, with approximately 37% of African American children living in two-parent households (U.S. Census Bureau). Thirty-three percent of African American families maintain middle-class status and 22.7% live below the poverty line (Hines & Boyd-Franklin, 2005). Although these data show some economic growth within the entire African American community, it is important to note that even today African American families generally earn 66% of the income of their White peers (Hines & Boyd-Franklin). Furthermore, disparities that may derive from the vestiges of institutional racism and prejudice still result in disparities in African Americans' health outcomes, homeownership rates, employment rates, and life expectancy outcomes when compared to non-African American peers (Hines & Boyd-Franklin). Nonetheless, contemporary conceptualizations of the African American family take into consideration the complexity, of the African American family system and count as a strength the family's historically and culturally grounded ability to adapt to changing societal, economic, and political contexts (Logan, 2001).


The value of school-family-communities partnerships to African American children's academic achievement cannot be understated. Emerging research suggests that school-family-community partnerships may serve as a protective factor that supports educational resilience in children and thus reduces the negative effects of stress and socio-cultural inequities that sometimes plague the lives of African American families (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Herbert, 1999). Furthermore, school-family-community partnerships have been found to increase academic achievement (Christenson & Sheridan), enhance social competence (Webster-Stratton, Reid, & Hammond, 2001), and lower rates of participation in adolescent high-risk behaviors (Resnick et al., 1997) that may affect educational performance and achievement.

Murrell (2002) suggested that a foundational premise of African-centered pedagogy that frames effective African American educational experiences in the United States recognizes that "human cognition and intellectual development are socially and culturally situated in human activity" (p. 46). This implies that learning within the African American community is best understood as an interactive combination of effort, capacity, and social support. Murrell further identified community integrity practices or actions that make and maintain community membership as an essential practice of African-centered pedagogy. As school counselors become increasingly astute at understanding and articulating their contribution to children's academic success, it is logical that school counselors' involvement in school-family-community partnerships stands as one theoretically and culturally sound approach to support the achievement of African American children. This moves away from the deficit approach to work with families that has long surfaced in educational arenas and moves toward approaches that recognize and embrace that African American families, like all families, have ancestral and contemporary strengths that can serve as the backbone of strong, viable systems of support for school-family-community partnerships (see Logan, 2001).


Although school-family-community partnerships or relationships are beneficial to students' academic outcomes (Bryan, 2005; Epstein, 1995), the formation and continuation of partnerships often face barriers. Perhaps the greatest barrier to effective partnerships is indulgence in games of low expectation, misperception and deficit paradigms (Giles, 2005; Koonce & Harper, 2005), and blame casting. While it is true that most educational professionals fully recognize the futility of such acts, it is equally true that these unfortunate factors are still very much a part of the American school experience--especially the educational experience of underserved and underrepresented communities (Herbert, 1999; Trotman, 2001). Furthermore, these factors and the resulting narratives disempower families and stifle children's educational and emotional growth (Bryan & Henry, 2008; Harry, Klinger, & Hart, 2005).

School counselors can lead parents, guardians, and educational professionals to working alliances that do not tolerate low expectations for children or each other; and they can refuse to entertain the endless blaming of schools, parents, or communities for the state of education for African American children today. Using skills in interpersonal communication, group counseling, strength-based counseling approaches, problem solving, and mediation, school counselors are well positioned to handle this enduring challenge of school-family-community collaboration and move partnerships forward in productive ways (Bemak, 2000; Bryan, 2005; Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Taylor & Adelman, 2000). Moreover, school counselors can use their skills in multicultural counseling to work with schools, families, and communities to begin to bridge the gap of cultural mistrust rooted in histories of oppression, marginalization, and prejudice that may exist between schools and the African American community (Noguera, 2001, 2003).

Channeled thinking by school counselors can serve as another barrier to effective collaboration with African American families. School counselors in today's complex educational environments must move beyond traditional thinking and counseling models to embrace the full complement of roles and responsibilities needed to implement effective school counseling programs that are culturally relevant. School counselors must recognize and take on their role of transformational leader (see Erford, 2003). The ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005), the School Counselor Competencies (ASCA, 2008), and the Education Trust's Transforming School Counseling Initiative (see endorse school counselors' roles in facilitating school-family-community partnerships. School counselors partnering with families may discover innovative, culturally relevant ways to support children's education that neither would have identified independently. The work of maximizing children's potential can best be accomplished through partnership (Stone, Doherty, Jones, & Ross, 1999). Working as a coordinator of services, consultant, advocate, liaison, or collaborator as described in the ASCA National Model (2005) is one way to overcome this barrier (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2007). This stance also may require school counselors to reexamine their use of time and diminish their inappropriate involvement with clerical and administrative tasks that thwart partnership efforts (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004).

Finally, infrastructure concerns are another barrier to effective school-family-community partnerships. As leaders in the instructional setting, school counselors can work with families, community members, and administrators to examine infrastructure difficulties such as the lack of school-linked services and resources, restrictive building or personnel availability, complicated interaction and communication processes or expectations, and thorny institutional practices or protocols that make it difficult for families to join with schools to help children meet success (Koonce & Harper, 2005). These issues are often systemic and historic (Stone et al., 1999). It is possible, however, that small, focused solutions may help to ease the burden just enough to open the doorway for partnerships and help to facilitate the development of a collaborative school climate that supports partnerships (Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Colombo, 2006). One example can be found in a study of eight middle and elementary schools in Baltimore, MD, where efforts made to involve parents and guardians through small, focused actions such as listening to children read and interacting with children during homework completion had significant, positive effects on school-family-community partnership efforts (Epstein & Dauber, 1991).


Parent and guardian involvement in children's school experiences is central to effective school counseling programs and student success (Schultheiss, 2005). Recent national initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) and Goals 2000 (U.S. Department of Education, 1997) emphasized the importance of school-family-community partnerships to children's academic success through specific outcomes and recommendations. Additionally, national associations and accreditation boards such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification have identified school-family-community partnerships as important aims. Fortunately, it is the inveterate and traditional African American values of family unity and collectivist support that may provide a firm foundation and enhance partnership opportunities (Koonce & Harper, 2005). New models of collaboration that reverse the dissociation between families and schools (see Stone et al., 1999) and give specific attention to the strengths and needs of African American families are therefore warranted.

The Hoover-Dempsey and Sandier (1995, 1997) model, which explains collaboration as a reciprocal system that includes personal and environmental factors, underscores the contributions of culture and other life context variables as foundational elements of parents' and guardians' motivation for involvement. Discussion of this model can be found elsewhere (see Hoover-Dempsey & Sandier, 1995, 1997; Walker, Shenker, & Hoover-Dempsey, this issue).

Byran and Holcomb-McCoy's (2004) review of the literature revealed a multifaceted, function-based model of school-family-community partnerships that included nine types of collaborative outcomes: mentoring programs, parent centers, volunteer programs, classroom assistant opportunities, home visit programs, parent education programs, business partnerships, site-based management, and tutoring programs. Each function requires cultural relevance as school, family, and community partners work to meet shared outcomes.

Epstein's (1995; Epstein & Van Voorhis, this issue) well-known typology of partnership involvement has been adapted by educators and organizations across the country in various and diverse cultural communities to ensure comprehensive partnership programs. The Epstein typology identifies six types of involvement including parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with the community. Examples of implementation of the Epstein typology can be found elsewhere (see Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). Each type of involvement, however, has implications for African American families. One example that may have particular relevance for today's African American families is decision-making involvement. Recent news reports have detailed African American families' involvement in discussions and advocacy regarding school choice and school improvement in urban centers. Whether it be

African American parents serving on charter school committees in Baltimore, providing leadership for schools in Harlem, NY, or representing community perspectives on school discipline committees in Oakland, CA, this high level of collaboration allows schools, families, and communities to interact in mutually beneficial ways that deepen understanding, combat cultural mistrust, mobilize resources, and reach mutual goals aimed at increasing children's academic, emotional, and social success. School counselors can spearhead these efforts by ensuring that African American families continue to have representation in this important work and by providing training and advocacy services for those families in the leadership pipeline.

Another important model, originally suggested for work in urban community development, may have merit in the school-family-community partnership application. Ferguson's (1999) developmental model of community development alliance suggests that each stage of partnership development holds a central task or tension. As these issues are resolved, individuals are able to move on to the next developmental challenge. Failure to successfully negotiate any particular challenge may result in lack of development and failure of a collaborative initiative.

The first stage of the model, Trust and Interest Versus Mistrust and Disinterest, involves determining the need for and interest in partnership, exploring articulated and unarticulated expectations, and recognizing the existing social capital that people bring to the work of collaboration. Social capital or networks frame and support the capacity that each entity brings to meet goals and outcomes of the partnership. Along with these networks often come varying needs and understandings of issues to be addressed. As applied to school-family-community partnerships, African American families may bring forth these issues and valuable understandings steeped in a culture specific worldview that is marked by historical, political, economic, and societal realities that involve differential power, prejudice, and oppression. These factors can only be explored within relationships built on trust and awareness of cultural implications and emotional and physiological costs.

Furthermore, while cultural group experiences and shared narratives are important, these factors can only legitimately be examined as they manifest within the particular context of a given family (Koonce & Harper, 2005). For example, a school counselor interested in collaborating in a meaningful way with an African American single mother raising a teenage daughter must develop a relationship that is respectful of the specific, unique, real-world pressures and fears the mother faces as she deals with racism, sexism, stress, and economic disparities that are fused with her efforts to earn a living to support herself and her daughter on a daily basis. The school counselor also must value and affirm the lived experiences the parent brings to collaboration even if that experience differs from or contradicts the experiences, values, and norms embedded in American mainstream school experiences (Farquhar, Michael, & Wiggins, 2005).

The second stage of the Ferguson (1999) model of collaboration is Compromise Versus Conflict or Exit. In a school community context, it is during this stage that families and school personnel assess each other's competence and motives and determine appropriate, common goals. Often school personnel believe that local and district-level goals express universally accepted norms of achievement and behavior for students. While some standard must be adopted for school community cohesion, these goals are best developed in collaboration with parents and involved community members. High levels of trust and compromise are needed to negotiate this stage of the partnership relationship. Given the historical and sociocultural realities of many African American families, this condition of partnership development may have particular significance. Specifically, all those involved in school-family-community partnerships with African American families must recognize and carefully negotiate power dynamics that are often defined by race, gender, and social class. School-family partnerships in African American communities require an honest appreciation of these factors and the real-world effects these factors may have on relationships.

As school counselors work to facilitate these partnerships, they should work as cultural liaisons or brokers to overcome or eliminate the barriers of power differentials, social class, race, and gender when possible, and advocate on behalf of students and families, always. It is the school counselor's unique systemic perspective that may allow him or her to aptly see the strengths and cultural capital of schools and families and the ways in which both can work together to help children meet academic success. Clearly, the educational goals of any student should involve the engaged commitment and collaboration of the student's family. Without high levels of involvement, facilitation, leadership, and advocacy from the school counselor, however, families may disengage from the partnership process and become unwilling to collaborate with school personnel on any immediate or future goals. As families and schools move through the Compromise Versus Conflict or Exit stage of development, trust must be earned and renewed, continually. Movement through this stage leads to the Commitment Versus Ambivalence stage.

The task of the third stage, Commitment Versus Ambivalence, is for families and schools to overcome the obstacles that prevent sustained commitment. This task may present particular challenges for African American families as societal stressors, economic barriers, and some critical health issues (e.g., hypertension, cancer, obesity) disproportionately affect the community (Haire-Joshu et al., 2001). These factors and others that may be associated with the stigmatization of racial minorities and psychological costs of assimilation could decrease the available resources many African American families have to contribute to collaborative relationships in spite of deep commitment to such relationships and their children (see Harry et al., 2005). As families and schools partner, it is important for all parties to support each other and recognize culture-specific obstacles as they negotiate the stages of collaborative relationships. Using their training and skills in strength-based and multicultural counseling and consultation approaches, engaged school counselors can become significant allies as they help families and schools recognize the assets and supports that can facilitate movement through this difficult stage of sustained partnership work.

During the Industrious Versus Discouragement stage, the partnerships deepen as relationships crystallize. It is in this stage that schools and families may become true allies in helping children meet academic goals. Roles become more clearly defined, priorities are more aligned, and power differentials are mediated through mutual respect. School counselors' clinical individual and group counseling skills could prove invaluable as partnership parties work to develop a working alliance.

In the final stage of the model, Transition Versus Stagnation, partners achieve patterns of empowerment that allow them to transfer learning to future alliances. For school-family- community collaboration with African American families, this results in a "mutual depositing"--a shared benefit of partnership that increases the self-efficacy of both family and school. During this stage, families are liberated from narratives and roles that undermine their abilities to substantively contribute to the educational mission of schools. Giles (2005) discussed this phenomenon as it applies to urban families as movement from limiting, deficit narratives to dynamic, empowering relational narratives. When schools and families enter and deepen partnerships in the Transition Versus Stagnation stage, both develop deeper networks, stronger skill sets, and intellectual and social capital that is transferrable and ultimately serves an entire community's longer-term academic aims.

Through each stage of the Ferguson (1999) model, school counselors may be well served to embrace the steps to cultural reciprocity (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999) that can support collaborative relationship development with African American families. Cultural reciprocity is a process of cultural self-awareness and sensitivity that facilitates cultural awareness and sensitivity in and about others. The steps to cultural reciprocity include (a) identifying the cultural values and assumptions embedded in each party's understanding of the issues at hand, (b) checking in with each collaborator to determine if the values and assumptions are mutually meaningful and deemed as important to the partnership process, (c) respecting and giving voice to the cultural differences that emerge during the previous steps, and (d) discussing and determining effective ways to respectfully adapt each collaborator's interpretations or recommendations so that the mutually determined goals can be met. In total, these steps to cultural reciprocity set the stage for deliberate, frank, and necessary conversations about culture, race, power, and privilege as it manifests in schools and the lives of African American children and their families.


In the next section of this article, we identify several school-family-community partnerships that have been developed to support the school and family success of African American children and adolescents. Each initiative incorporates one or more partnership elements prescribed by Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy (2004), Epstein (1991, 1995), and others (see Hoover-Dempsey & Sandier, 1997). These programs serve as models that school counselors can engage in to support African American children and their families. Involvement in collaborative partnerships with families and communities is an especially important role for school counselors, given that African American students experience disproportionate rates of disciplinary referral, suspension, and expulsion (Rausch & Skiba, 2006; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002); special education placement (Patton, 1998); underachievement (Bruce, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009; Ford, Grantham, & Whiting, 2008; Miranda, Webb, Brigman, & Peluso, 2007); and school dropout (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006).

Edelman, Holzer, and Offner (2006) have noted that partnerships or multisystemic alliances between schools, families, and communities have contributed to community empowerment, resiliency, revitalization, collective efficacy, as well as institutional change; however, less attention has been devoted to rigorous, theoretically driven, longitudinal evaluations of partnership programs that rely on randomized controlled trials and determine the extent to which partnerships reduce school- and community-based problems. Such evaluations are important in light of the fact that data-driven initiatives govern policy decisions at local, state, and federal levels (Edelman et al.; Fawcett et al., 2001; Sampson, 2007). Although several of the programs we review in this article have program evaluations that are narrow in scope and rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, we nonetheless regard these programs as successful initiatives that warrant serious consideration by professional school counselors and counselor educators.

An exhaustive litany of studies charts the lagging academic performance of African American students relative to their White and Asian peers (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Although an unnerving amount of educational discourse regards the school failure of African American children as axiomatic, there are numerous examples of high-poverty, high-minority schools where students achieve at rates commensurate with their White and Asian counterparts (Coleman, 2007; Education Trust, 2009; Harlem Children's Zone, n.d.; Noguera, 2001; Skrla, Scheurich, Garcia, & Nolly, 2004). As the educational programs we review below demonstrate, institutional transformation usually occurs with visionary leadership, strong measures of accountability, and an integrated system of social supports obtained through meaningful partnership programming.

Harlem Children's Zone

Perhaps the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) is one of the most successful, well-known, and comprehensive partnership programs designed to promote academic achievement, reduce systemic racial and socioeconomic inequality, and enhance healthy child and family functioning. Established by Geoffrey Canada in 1970, HCZ provides a comprehensive system of social supports within a concentrated, 97block geographical area of Harlem, where predominately African American resident communities struggle with concentrated poverty, inadequate funding for education, family and neighborhood strife, as well as limited resources (Dobbie & Fryer, 2009). Essentially, HCZ Charter Schools offer an extended day and an extended calendar year in order to combat learning loss during the summer months. In turn, HCZ schools are supplemented with a set of wraparound support services for children and families, including but not limited to prenatal care, parent education classes, nutrition and fitness programs, after-school care, mentoring, leadership training, social services, financial planning, career and college readiness programs, and school-based health centers that offer physical and mental health care services (HCZ, n.d.).

School counselors' and counselor educators' expertise in many of these areas (i.e., career and college readiness, mentoring, parent education, and leadership training) could support multidimensional partnerships such as HCZ. Scholars credit the program's remarkable results to the seamless support network available to students and their families. Moreover, outcome studies demonstrate that students participating in HCZ charter schools have effectively closed the achievement gap between themselves and the average White student matriculating in New York City Public Schools (Dobbie & Fryer, 2009).

Canada attributes the success of his initiative in large measure to the infrastructure that has developed over a 40-year span and to the continuity of services that are relegated to a 97-block geographic region of the community (HCZ, n.d.). The Harlem Children's Zone reaches a critical mass of residents, exposing more than two thirds of community members to rigorous educational initiatives and a comprehensive set of social supports that create a tipping point in which a large segment of the community endorses a collective set of norms, values, expectations, and strivings that provide a shift from maladaptive behaviors and activities to more wholesome lifestyle orientations that help reduce poverty and systemic inequality. Unlike many of the programs we review, HCZ provides systematic evaluations of its programs (Dobbie & Fryer, 2009).

An Achievable Dream

Like HCZ, An Achievable Dream is a K-12 academy. Located in Newport News, VA, and founded in 1992, the program represents a collaborative partnership between the public school system and the business community. All students in the school qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and 98% of the student body is African American. An Achievable Dream provides students with intensive instruction in basic skills, an extended school day and calendar year, enrichment programs, technology, personal development programs such as training in etiquette and elocution, as well as parent involvement opportunities (Coleman, 2007). The school has clearly articulated goals; consistent expectations; curricular rigor and relevance; warm, nurturing school personnel; emphasis on character education and a positive self-identity; parent involvement through education, training, and volunteerism; as well as an onsite health clinic. Program evaluations have demonstrated that students in the program exceeded performance levels of a matched comparison group on a measure of academic achievement. Substantial decreases in discipline and absenteeism also have been noted. Students in the program have passed mandatory state assessments at rates that are commensurate with middle-class and affluent students.

Black Achievers Program

Using a national education longitudinal database, Bryan, Holcomb-McCoy, Moore-Thomas, and Day-Vines (2009) examined the demographic profiles of students who see the school counselor for college information. Findings demonstrated that African Americans and females were more likely to see the school counselor for college information. Published reports indicate that few racial differences exist in students' aspirations to attend college; ironically, fewer African American students actually enroll in college (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005). The Black Achievers Program is a viable response to the spate of research documenting the underrepresentation of African American students pursuing postsecondary education.

Founded in 1971, the YMCA National Black Achievers Program is a college readiness program designed to increase the postsecondary aspirations of African American high school students. During its inception, the program served African American students exclusively; over the years, however, the program has taken on different names in different locales to reflect the pluralism that exists in more diverse schools and communities (e.g., African and Hispanic Achievers, Minority Achievers). Today the program operates in more than 200 sites around the United States and involves more than 25,000 adult volunteers. The Black Achievers Program incorporates two primary methods of school-family-community partnerships recommended by Bryan and Holcomb-McCoy (2004): mentoring and business partnerships.

Using the 40 Developmental Assets (Sesma & Roehlkepartain, 2003) or the system of internal, familial, and social supports that promote resilience in adolescents as a point of departure, the Black Achievers Program creates alliances with schools that help identify eligible student participants, community agencies, and corporate sponsors that provide financial support for operating expenses and scholarships. In addition, corporate sponsors identify employees of color who are designated "Achievers." As part of the requirement for receiving recognition, Achievers agree to mentor program participants. This reciprocal dynamic among the school, family, and community helps mentors serve as role models and demystify the path to personal and occupational success. Students participate in career development activities, leadership training initiatives, college tours, corporate tours, SAT preparation courses, as well as cultural events and activities. School counselors can support the Black Achievers Program by getting involved in steering committees and disseminating information about the program to students.

Year Up

The digital divide was a term coined in 1996, to reflect disparities between groups with and without access to technology on the basis of race, age, social class, and geography (Attewell, 2001; Carvin, 2006; Salpeter, 2006). In more recent years the divide has narrowed substantially. In fact, a report commissioned by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (Gant, Turner-Lee, Li, & Miller, 2010) revealed that nationwide, 69% of African Americans use the Internet regularly. When disaggregated by social class, findings reveal a different picture. More than 90% of African Americans with college degrees use the Internet regularly compared to only 38% of high school dropouts.

Schools experiencing concentrated poverty have high ratios of students to instructional computers and less access to technology outside of school (Roberts & Foehr, 2008). Although research indicates that poor, minority, and urban students report more frequent computer use in school than their Caucasian counterparts, Attewell (2001) and others (e.g., Salpeter, 2006) have cautioned that such figures may be misleading because they do not describe exactly how instruction is delivered using technology. Moreover, African Americans are more likely to be consumers versus producers of the technology. Wheary and Orozco (2010) asserted that in the absence of 4-year degrees, students can still maximize their earning potential by enrolling in certificate programs that provide them with marketable skills in science and technology.

Facility using and technology manipulating will increase employment prospects for African Americans. It is in this spirit that Year Up was founded as an intensive technology and professional education program for young adults (18-24) living in urban areas. Using a series of integrative services, this partnership program creates an important link between school and the labor market. Essentially, students spend the first 6 months of the program developing mastery in one of three areas: desktop support, information technology help desk, and investment operations. In addition, students acquire the requisite interpersonal, communication, leadership, and professional skills to achieve success in the workplace. Participants spend the second 6 months of the program working at internship sites as apprentices in major corporations. Upon completion of the program, students enter the workforce making on average $15 per hour, substantially more than they would make without this program. This program's unique blend of business partnerships and mentoring may provide critical links that help school counselors support urban, African American students' career awareness and development. Given the importance of career and college readiness, school counselors can maintain involvement with programs such as Year Up and advocate for the needs of poor and minority students.

Youth Together

Numerous studies document the disproportionate rate of disciplinary referrals and suspensions of African American students relative to their Caucasian counterparts (Children's Defense Fund, 1975; Gregory & Weinstein, 2008; Skiba et al., 2002). Regrettably, these rates have increased steadily in more recent years (Krezmien, Leone, & Achilles, 2006). Disproportionality has been attributed to race, social class positionality, low achievement, cultural miscommunication, teacher bias, the subjective nature of office referrals, negative expectations, and unnecessarily harsh disciplinary practices. As a response to the disturbing rates of disproportionality, scholars have called for primary prevention programs that promote student learning and self-regulation.

Day-Vines and Terriquez (2008) described a partnership program implemented in an Oakland, CA, high school amidst a school climate in which students felt devalued and teachers perceived the effective loss of classroom control. The partnership program, initiated under the auspices of Youth Together, a school/community-based leadership and violence prevention program, worked conjointly with school personnel, students, families, and community representatives to generate a successful initiative. What resulted was a discipline committee that instituted several interventions including the dissemination of written discipline policies to students and their families, the posting of rules and consequences throughout the school, meetings to address student rights and responsibilities, the collection of baseline disciplinary data, and focus group sessions designed to address student perceptions of unfair treatment. Youth Together participants worked to develop their leadership, problem-solving, and social competence skills. Eventually, the Youth Together participants conducted an in-service training for teachers to discuss student concerns and share teaching strategies that would contribute to more appropriate, prosocial behaviors within the student body. As a result of this partnership program, suspensions declined by more than 75%. Such a partnership program helped to promote the collective efficacy of all stakeholders.


The models and programs discussed suggest several important implications for school counselors and counselor educators working with school-family-community partnerships. First, the role of the school counselor is expanding. As defined by the ASCA National Model (2005), comprehensive school counseling programs require school counselors to take on multiple roles and functions based on the student needs identified through school data. Creative partnerships that extend beyond the four walls of any one school building such as those of the Harlem Children's Zone project or the Year Up program call for a school counselor positionality that easily moves in and out of varied, multiple contexts. While this requires a commitment to openness and continuing professional development on the part of school counseling practitioners, it also requires a willingness of counselor educators to move beyond traditional school counseling models and clinical experience assignments.

More specifically, counselor educators must explore ways that school counselors in training can experience and process rich school-family-community partnership engagement within school counseling practicums and internships. This is challenging. Effective school-family-community partnerships with African American families, in particular, demand cultural reciprocity (see Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). Often, cultural reciprocity develops over time within the framework of a trusting relationship. The current time and structural parameters of some school counseling pratica and internships may not allow for this kind of deep, reflective practice. Given the demands of the school counseling profession and the need for school counselors to enter the field as leaders and advocates prepared to engage in transformative, systemic work, counselor educators must consider new, innovative ways to incorporate school-family-community partnership and collaboration skill competencies in school counseling training programs (Bemak, 2000).

Second, the models and programs discussed in this article embed an ethical call for cultural competence in school counseling. Clearly, the call for culturally competent school counseling in its specific application in school-family-community partnerships is well established (Bryan, 2005; Bryan & Henry, 2008; Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). School-family community partnerships provide opportunities for school counselors and counselor educators to work as cultural brokers and liaisons for African American families. That is, school counselors and counselor educators can use their skills and capacities as sources of social capital to work with African American families so that they can successfully negotiate school environments. Furthermore, as the school counseling profession moves forward in its commitment to culturally relevant school counseling programs for all students, school counselors and counselor educators must continue to work together to ensure that emerging theories, models, and interventions have appropriate applications for all families and communities, including African American families and communities.

This consideration of theory development and research must include study of small, localized settings and counseling applications as well as large-scale investigations that may result in findings and applications that could have national implications. As a first step, school counselors and counselor educators could consider partnering to investigate regional or district-wide school counseling research in culturally relevant school-family-community partnerships as opposed to single school site studies. Many counselor educators and school counselors already partner for district-wide consideration of practicums and internship placements for students. As an outgrowth of this work, rigorous study of school-family-community partnerships could be initiated through the same professional relationships. Furthermore, counselor educators could provide important research expertise to large-scale program evaluations that are needed for existing district-wide, regional, and national partnership programs.

Third, the unique nature and characteristics of the African American family must be respected in school-family-community partnership efforts. Strength-based partnership models, like the ones discussed in this article, that rely on African American cultural values, norms, and behaviors calibrated by the distinctive structures and needs of individual families and communities are warranted. School counselors' clinical counseling skills and understanding of family systems and group dynamics may serve as important tools in this work. Moreover, school counselors' professional and personal commitment to developing relationships with African American families that rely on alliances and bridge building for common educational goals is important (Giles, 2005). Counselor educators can continue to support these efforts by developing and maintaining school counseling programs that focus on counseling skill development, dispositional and professional orientation work, family systems theory and practice, and group work that allows for application and practice in multiple, diverse contexts.

Finally, while school counselors and counselor educators have great responsibility to the national and international identity of school counseling, school counselors and counselor educators also must be full members of and participants in their local communities. Historically, school counselors have served as collaborators and coordinators of local resources that support student achievement (Bemak, 2000). Given the current economic and social climates, however, school-family-community partnerships with African American families may require even greater levels of community engagement, resource knowledge and sharing, and creative problem solving (see Bemak). School counselors and counselor educators must know and respect their communities. They must network resources. They must be willing to serve as clear and tangible sources of social capital for students and families. Opportunities to develop these skills and knowledge sets do not occur over night but in time may be found in extracurricular and cocurricular projects taken on by school counselors or their professional organizations (e.g., honor society community outreach, professional association service projects, school district-sponsored networking events).


School-family-community partnerships with African American families provide important, rich connections to information, resources, and understandings needed to support quality educational experiences that help students meet appropriately rigorous academic goals (Bryan, 2005; Bryan & Henry, 2008). The benefits of partnership are numerous (Ferguson, 1999; Koonce & Harper, 2005; Williams & Baber, 2007). The work is sometimes challenging. School counselors and counselor educators, however, are well positioned to answer the call of the counseling profession and educational reform initiatives and accept the challenge. Using well-established theories and models of practice along with innovative and emerging research and models, school counselors and counselor educators can effectively initiate and facilitate school-family-community partnerships with African American students, families, and communities.


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Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, Timonium. E-mail:

Norma L. Day-Vines, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Falls Church.
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