"My counselors were never there": perceptions from Latino college students.
Hispanic American students
(Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Hispanic American students (Social aspects)
Student counselors (Social aspects)
Minority college students (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Minority college students (Social aspects)
Cavazos, Javier, Jr.
Johnson, Michael B.
Cavazos, Alyssa G.
|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 2009 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: April, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 4|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Eight Latino college students were interviewed to determine their
perceptions of the role of their high school counselors. The findings
revealed the following themes: (a) inadequate advisement, (b) lack of
availability, (c) lack of individual counseling, (d) differential
treatment, and (e) low expectations or setting limits. Despite
insufficient services from school counselors, participants developed a
sense of resilience and succeeded in higher education. A discussion is
provided and implications for school counselors are presented.
The Latino population is the fastest growing minority group in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005), and it is projected that 25% of K-12 students will be Latinos by 2025 (Gregory, 2003). In addition, although 67% of Anglo students pursue higher education, only 43% of Latino students enroll in some form of postsecondary education (Swail, Cabrera, & Lee, 2004). Furthermore, Latino students have the highest high school dropout rates in the United States (Tomas Rivera Policy Institute & National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, 2003). Because of the growing Latino student population and their risk of dropping out of school, it is important to provide services to help Latino students pursue higher education. One efficacious source of such assistance could be school counselors. Unfortunately, it is possible that Latino students move through the educational pipeline without receiving sufficient and necessary services from their high school counselors.
In this article, we first provide a literature review that focuses on barriers that prevent Latino students from accessing higher education and the potential contribution of the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) in promoting college access for Latino students. Second, we introduce findings from personal interviews with eight Latino college students regarding their high school experiences with school counselors. Finally, a discussion regarding these findings is offered, recommendations for future research are provided, and implications for school counselors are presented.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The term at-risk describes students who have a greater probability for academic failure due to adverse experiences (Hassinger & Plourde, 2005). Low expectations (Davison-Aviles, Guerrero, Barajas-Howarth, & Thomas, 1999; Martinez, 2003) and minimal information about higher education (Immerwahr, 2003; Zalaquett, 2005) have been identified as some of the barriers that prevent Latino students from enrolling in postsecondary education.
In a study of Latino students who left high school before completing their degree, Davison-Aviles et al. (1999) found that many students believed school personnel had low expectations of them. In addition to being told that they would not graduate from high school, some students reported that they were facilitated out of the education system (e.g., they were encouraged to pursue a GED instead of finishing high school). Moreover, Martinez (2003) found that many Latino college students were subjected to low expectations from high school teachers. The following is a statement from a participant in Martinez's study: "A second incident comes to mind in which I asked a teacher if I could go to the library to complete a scholarship application and he indicated that it was a waste of my time" (p. 110). In addition, although McHatton, Zalaquett, and Cranson-Gingras (2006) found personal challenges (e.g., negative study habits) to Latino students reaching higher education, none of the 57 participants in their study mentioned teachers as providing support to overcome these challenges. In fact, some Latino students identified that their teachers' low expectations were often one of their challenges to eventual academic achievement (McHatton et al.).
Lack of college information is another barrier that Latino students face. In a study of Latino high school seniors in the United States, Immerwahr (2003) found that some students were not given sufficient college information. Immerwahr speculated that teachers did not have time to guide and mentor Latino students who wanted to pursue higher education, thereby leaving them with insufficient information (e.g., availability of financial aid or scholarships). Because Latino students are more likely to be first-generation college students and their parents may not be aware of college application requirements (Zalaquett, 2005), mentoring from school personnel is sometimes the only path for Latino students to access higher education (Martinez, 2003).
Because of the prevalence of barriers to higher education, it is important for K-12 schools to provide Latino students with the information and preparation they need to put them in a position to be able to access higher education. At the high school level school counselors are in a position to provide these services and help Latino students to pursue higher education (Villalba, Akos, Keeter, & Ames, 2007).
The ASCA National Model is a framework that school counselors can use to help Latino students via guidance curricula, individual student planning, responsive services, and systems support (Villalba et al., 2007). First, the guidance curriculum involves activities designed to introduce students and parents to important topics (Studer, 2005). For example, classroom presentations can be used to disseminate college information (Villalba et al.). Second, individual student planning could be implemented that includes advisement, assessment, and follow-up procedures (Studer). To counteract the negative impact of curriculum tracking based on perceived ability levels, Latino students should be encouraged and advised to enroll in challenging coursework (Villalba et al.). Third, responsive services can be incorporated, including individual and group counseling (Studer). Many Latino students suffer from depression and low self-esteem (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005), so counseling services must be readily available (Villalba et al.). Finally, systems support should be provided. This refers to professional development via workshops and conferences and collaborating with other professionals to bring services to Latino students (Studer). Because many Latino students are English language learners, school counselors can talk to their teachers in order to facilitate the teachers' learning about the unique needs of this student population (Villalba et al.).
Eight Latino undergraduate students were recruited to participate in the current study from a single Hispanic-Serving University (i.e., a university in which at least 25% of the students are Hispanic) in the Southwestern United States. Participants attended high schools throughout South Texas, an area in which 85% of those under the age of 18 are Latino (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). The participants ranged in age from 19 to 22; 5 were female and 3 were male. In order to recruit participants, the second author sent an e-mail to several student organizations on campus and requested participation. Several students responded to this initial e-mail and were asked to recommend other students. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained prior to participant recruitment, and informed consent was provided by each participant.
All participants reported having the desire to attend some form of education beyond undergraduate studies. At the time of the interviews, three participants wanted to pursue law school, two participants wanted to obtain doctoral degrees in education, one participant wanted to pursue a master's degree in counseling, one participant wanted to attend medical school, and the final participant wanted to pursue a master's degree in library science. Some of the participants' accomplishments included "Student of the Week" recognition, a 4-year university scholarship, a National Archer Fellowship, leadership positions at their respective campuses, and an outstanding student award for a specific college at the university. Each participant was assigned a fictitious name to provide anonymity and for identification purposes.
Individual interviews were conducted with the eight Latino college students during the fall semester of 2007. The interviews were initiated with the following question: "In high school, did your counselors have high or low expectations of your academic abilities?" This question was designed to elicit responses regarding the role their high school counselors played in their academic experiences. Moreover, this question allowed participants to provide positive and/or negative experiences. In addition to the initial interview question, follow-up questions were utilized, thereby creating a semi-structured interview format (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). The second author conducted all eight interviews, and each interview lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Interviews were conducted in person, recorded with participant consent, and transcribed verbatim.
Data Collection and Analysis
An inductive data analysis procedure was used to identify common themes in participants' responses (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Data analysis did not occur until all interviews were transcribed to prevent themes from developing prematurely. During the analysis of the transcripts, three reviewers with salient experience independently identified themes and selected specific stories and statements in support of each theme. Multiple meetings were held to discuss any discrepancies. At this point, the reviewers agreed upon the following themes: (a) inappropriate or inadequate advisement, (b) lack of availability, (c) lack of individual counseling and attention, (d) differential treatment, and (e) low expectations or setting limits. The first reviewer, who reviewed the transcripts for common themes, had experience with qualitative research, qualitative journal writing, and analyzing personal interviews. The second reviewer had extensive background in working with Latino students. His counseling internship included working with Latino high school students, and he worked with Latino students as a mentor and motivational speaker. Finally, the third reviewer had experience with Latino students via elementary teaching and a counseling internship in a school with predominantly Latino students.
Several steps were followed to enhance this study's trustworthiness. First, we intentionally gathered information about the experience of Latino students who recently graduated from high school, thus making the data more trustworthy. Second, three experienced researchers analyzed the participants' responses. Finally, it was the opinion of the interviewer that he was able to establish rapport with each participant. His experience as a Latino student and his ability to identify with each participant's experience appeared to facilitate each participant's ability to discuss personal experiences during the interviews.
Findings are presented within the following themes that emerged during data analysis: inappropriate or inadequate advisement, lack of availability, lack of individual counseling and attention, differential treatment, and low expectations or setting limits. The one exception to this thematic presentation involves the first participant presented herein. Juan, who was admitted to a special high school program designed for students who wanted to pursue a career in health or science, reported the following experience:
Juan also said,
Juan's positive statements (i.e., high expectations and support to reach those expectations) were in contrast to the remaining seven interviews, which were predominately negative in tone.
Inappropriate or Inadequate Advisement
Most of the participants reported inadequate or inappropriate advisement from their school counselors. Moreover, it was evident that these participants were adversely affected by insufficient advisement. For example, Jessica recalled an experience in which she did not receive credit for concurrent enrollment (i.e., college preparatory course). She stated,
Abel also reported that he did not receive sufficient information regarding concurrent enrollment. He stated,
Abel also talked about his experience of inadequate advisement. He stated, "Counselors, they helped, but they didn't make a difference because all they said was here is some information, and here it is and this is what you need, and that's it."
Finally, Rosa, who received a 4-year scholarship to her university, reported that her school counselors did not take sufficient time to explain scholarships. She stated,
Participants recalled experiences of (a) loss of credit, (b) lack of information regarding higher education, and (c) minimal supervision from school counselors. Jessica's statement highlights the detrimental effects of entering higher education with insufficient advisement and information:
Lack of Availability
Most participants reported that their school counselors were "never there." For example, when Amanda was asked about her experience with her counselor, she provided the following: "I had no idea who even my counselor was. I can't even think of her name. They were no help to me whatsoever." Moreover, Abel supplied this statement regarding his frustration with his school counselor,
Sandra also described the unavailability of her counselors with the following:
In addition, Jessica described the unavailability of her counselor. She stated, "She was never there, and she would always leave a message saying, 'Come back after school.' But I couldn't go after school because I would have to work after school." Although Jessica reported that she would try to meet with her counselor, she provided the following:
Finally, Rosa described her experience when she stated, "They never did have much time to even talk or even discuss our futures with us. I really didn't get anything from them."
Lack of Individual Counseling and Attention
Most participants reported that their school counselors were unavailable for personal counseling. For example, Manuel reported that he never visited with his counselor regarding emotional challenges. He said,
Sandra also provided her perception of the role of her counselor with the following:
Finally, Melissa talked about the lack of mentoring and individual attention from her counselor. She stated, "I grew up with the idea of a counselor being somebody to mentor you. However, when I approached them, they were not mentors."
Some participants reported that they perceived different treatment from their school counselors. For example, Melissa described her perception of counselors paying more attention to students who came from prestigious or wealthy families. She said, "I noticed it a lot with those that came from, maybe not prominent families, but well-known families, or the sons or daughters of the parents that they knew." Additionally, Sandra reported that her counselors provided more services to students who were athletes or members of wealthy families. She provided the following:
Low Expectations or Setting Limits
Although all eight participants were high-achieving undergraduate students, it was clear that some school counselors did not have high expectations. In addition, some students reported that their counselors underestimated their academic potential. Even though Abel wanted to enroll in challenging courses to prepare for higher education, his counselor did not want him to pursue this plan. He stated,
Because this counselor may not have seen Abel's potential for higher education, she discouraged him from taking the Texas Higher Education Assessment (THEA), which was a prerequisite to enroll in college preparatory courses. Furthermore, Abel supplied this statement regarding the lack of motivation from another counselor: "She would actually pay attention to me, but she was not one of those counselors that would try and inspire you and go for it. I figure that's a counselor's job to try to make you go forward."
Although Melissa was in the top 5% of her high school graduating class, her counselor did not encourage her to apply to top universities. However, Melissa mentioned that her counselor provided other students with applications to Ivy League universities. Melissa described, "I was very discouraged when they, well my counselor, would offer the application for an Ivy League school for somebody ranking lower than me." Melissa also supplied this representative quote of counselors not encouraging students to pursue elite universities:
The high school counselors for seven of the eight participants in this study apparently "were never there" to provide guidance and counseling. Participants were (a) sent to higher education with insufficient advisement, (b) given inadequate attention, and/or (c) left with the impression that their counselors limited their academic potential. Despite insufficient services from school counselors, it appeared that these participants developed a sense of resilience. All participants talked about having the goal of obtaining an undergraduate and graduate degree, being in control of their academic futures, having support and encouragement from family, and self-belief in their academic abilities. These resilient factors appeared to facilitate each participant's ability to overcome insufficient services from their high school counselors. While these students possessed internal attributes that facilitated their academic success, other Latino students may need external support from school counselors (e.g., high expectations and encouragement) in order to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.
Based on results from the current study it is difficult to determine why participants' high school counselors did not provide counseling services and information about higher education. However, there are several possibilities. First, some school counselors may believe that Latino students do not have the ability to pursue higher education. Some teachers appear to contend that Latino students do not have the ability to succeed in higher education (Martinez, 2003; Warren, 2002; Zalaquett, 2005), and it is possible that some of the participants' counselors held similar deficit views of Latino students' academic abilities. Second, school counseling programs may not be preparing school counselors to challenge oppressive practices in K-12 school systems. In other words, it is possible that school counselors are not aware of barriers (e.g., low expectations) that prevent Latino students from accessing higher education. Third, it may be that school counselors are given such a large amount of administrative responsibilities that they are prevented from making adequate direct contact with students (Studer, 2005). Finally, many school counselors have large caseloads (Falls & Nichter, 2007), thereby limiting their ability to provide efficacious services to students.
Implications for School Counselors
Some of the participants in the current study were not high academic achievers in high school, yet achieved success at the undergraduate level and reported planning to continue with graduate school. School counselors must understand that a lack of success in high school does not necessarily lead to lack of success in higher education or any other endeavor. In other words, if a Latino student is not in the top 10% of his or her high school graduating class or does not have a high grade point average, this does not mean that he or she does not have the potential to successfully pursue higher education. Despite low expectations and insufficient advisement, results from the current study and other research (e.g., Gandara, 1995; Herrera, 2003) have found that Latino students who were tracked away from higher education in high school have attained high academic achievement at the postsecondary level. School counselors historically have had low expectations for Latino students (Davison-Aviles et al., 1999; Martinez, 2003), and although not every Latino student may be a candidate for higher education, counselors are strongly urged to keep this history in mind in order to address any possible personal biases that may interfere with the optimal service delivery.
It is important that school counselors understand the detrimental effects that students experience due to insufficient information about post-high school academic opportunities and requirements, including not knowing about application requirements, not knowing about scholarship information and prospects, and failing to even consider college as an option. As Villalba et al. (2007) pointed out, school counselors should not only encourage Latino students to enroll in higher education, but also provide them with sufficient information regarding prerequisites and application procedures. Because many Latino parents do not know what is involved in the college application process (Zalaquett, 2005), school counselors may be the only source of college information for Latino students (Martinez, 2003). Therefore, it is important that school counselors disseminate college information to all Latino students who express interest.
Bosworth and Walz (2005) have contended that school counselors serve as important proponents in creating a resilient school environment in which (a) high expectations are prevalent for all students; (b) appropriate academic advising (i.e., encouraging students to participate in challenging coursework) is common practice; and (c) teachers are trained by school counselors in resiliency skills. Having high expectations means that school counselors should encourage Latino students to pursue higher education and provide appropriate advisement to enroll in challenging curricula (Villalba et al., 2007). For instance, if a Latino student wants to take a college preparatory course and desires the associated challenge, this student should be encouraged and not discouraged from taking this course (Villalba et al.). In addition, Stone and Clark (2001) suggested that school counselors actively work with school principals to change attitudes and beliefs toward students' abilities and potential for success. That is, school counselors are in a position to influence faculty and staff attitudes toward Latino students' academic potential.
School counseling training programs could further these objectives by adopting admission procedures set forth in Stone and Hanson's (2002) study of successful school counseling programs. The mission statement behind these school counseling programs is to "select graduate students with the greatest promise of becoming leaders, advocates, and change agents in schools to promote student learning and achievement" (Stone & Hanson, p. 177). In order to gain admission, school counseling candidates must endure a rigorous application process that includes an essay regarding systemic barriers that adversely influence students' achievement and a speech regarding the achievement gap between minority children (e.g., Latino) and their non-minority peers (Stone & Hanson). Moreover, these programs' selection criteria should emphasize that their future counselors have high expectations for all students, a commitment to social justice, a commitment to removing barriers that prevent students from accessing higher education, and a desire to produce change (Stone & Hanson). Although these criteria are designed for school counseling training programs, they are also relevant for school counselors who are working in K-12 schools. If school counselors implement these guidelines (e.g., high expectations for all students) into the guidance curriculum, more Latino students may be encouraged to pursue higher education.
Recommendations for Future Research
All of the participants in this study are performing well in a university setting, yet seven of the eight identified negative experiences with their high school counselors. This conundrum leads to a number of questions that are likely fertile ground for future research. First, were these students unusually resilient for some reason? Perhaps future studies could examine whether the culture of hard work in which these young adults were reared impacted their willingness and desire to persevere. Maybe their families somehow were able to provide support in an efficacious manner. Additionally, there may have been subjective interpretations on the part of these students that led them to perceive lack of encouragement from their school counselors in a manner that led to higher effort. And maybe it was just luck. Each of these constructs (i.e., resiliency, luck, culture, familial interpersonal relationships, or subjective interpretations) and its role in student-counselor interactions and the student's eventual academic achievement are possible, and likely beneficial, areas for future research. Furthermore, future research should explore school counselors' beliefs regarding Latino students' academic potential. There may be a relationship between school counselors' beliefs and their delivery of insufficient services. And finally, future research must replicate findings from the current study with a larger sample size from a number of schools. Given the vital role that school counselors play in the academic success of Latino students, it is important that research examine the effectiveness of their services.
Eight Latino students were interviewed for the current study, which makes the generalizability of the results difficult to surmise. Also, participants in the present study were recruited via an e-mail that requested their participation, so those who volunteered may differ from those who did not (Sanchez, 2006). In addition, participants attended a Hispanic-Serving University and had attended high schools where 85% of the local 18 and younger population were Latino (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). Therefore, results may not be representative of Latino students who attend other universities (e.g., highly competitive university) or who attended high schools where they were not the majority. Finally, it is important to mention that the interviewer did not explore whether participants' school counselors conducted in-class presentations (i.e., a guidance curriculum under the ASCA National Model) regarding higher education. However, if school counselors had high expectations of the current study's participants, it appears likely that many would have mentioned an experience in which their school counselor said something similar to the following: "Everybody in this room has the potential to attend college. I believe in your ability to get there, and I am going to do everything I can to make this goal attainable."
The ASCA National Model is a framework that school counselors can use to help Latino students via classroom presentations, appropriate advisement and encouragement to enroll in challenging courses, individual counseling, and systems support (Villalba et al., 2007). In addition, school counselors are called upon to serve as important proponents in creating a resilient school environment in which high educational expectations are prevalent for all students (Bosworth & Walz, 2005). Although school counselors are encouraged to promote systemic change via resiliency and advocacy, change must occur at the individual level before systemic change can be addressed. If school counselors are not helping Latino students gain access to higher education via efficacious advisement, high expectations, and individual attention, it is unrealistic to expect them to work toward systemic change.
In summary, participants in this study clearly described instances in which high school counselors did not communicate high expectations or provide individual attention or quality advisement. We contend that school counselors should (a) read, or otherwise become aware of, success stories of Latino students who were pushed away from higher education (Gandara, 1995; Herrera, 2003); (b) learn about the importance of high expectations (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 2005); and (c) view Latino students with high expectations (White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, 2003).
The authors would like to thank the eight participants who shared their personal experiences.
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Luti Vela-Gude is a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. E-mail: Lvelagude@gmail.com
Javier Cavazos Jr. is a graduate student at the University of Texas-Pan American.
Michael B. Johnson is an assistant professor at Georgia Highlands College, Rome.
Cheryl Fielding is an associate professor at the University of Texas--Pan American.
Alyssa G. Cavazos is a graduate instructor at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.
Leslie Campos and Iliana Rodriguez are with the University of Texas--Pan American.
All she [school counselor] would do was want to wake up wanting to help us. She would call students in the morning, "Did you turn in that application?" She was just amazing. She had really high expectations of everyone in that program. She had high expectations of all of us, and she was the one that helped us all get to where we wanted to go.
If we had told her [school counselor] that we were scared about a test, she would call us into her office or call us in the mornings and be like, "OK, how did you do on your test? Don't worry, you're going to do just fine." She was really awesome!
She [school counselor] failed. I was taking concurrent classes of which I didn't get credit because I did not know that I had to take a test called the ACT. I didn't get credit for that. By the time I knew it, it was already too late again to apply.
But the fall started my senior year, and there was around 30 or 40 people that failed the class that were doing concurrent enrollment, and counselors were telling them, "Oh, you can make an appeal form to retake the class." They told everybody except for me.
I really never spoke to them [school counselors]. I would go and ask for advice, but they were always busy dealing with schedules and trying to help troubled teens. They never did have much time to even talk or discuss our futures with us. I really didn't get anything from them. I would just go to their office and pick up a form and be like OK, "I'm going to be in [university], can I rill out the form and turn it in?" And that was it.
My counselor was never there, and I honestly believe that if she would have been there, if she would have given me that information about scholarships, about college opportunities, and all of these other opportunities that I could have gotten as a first-generation college student whose background is not all that academic, then I would have been able to, with scholarships and everything, I think I would have been able to achieve a lot more than I eventually did. And it wouldn't have taken me additional time from college to try and figure that out. Even after high school was done, I still struggled. I did not have the greatest study habits in the world. I did not know what exams went where. I didn't know anything about college.
My freshmen and sophomore year counselor, that counselor was a very bad counselor. She was never there. I remember one time I needed my schedule change for keyboarding, and I requested it at the beginning of the school. She didn't call me until the end of April asking me what I wanted because I had filled out this request form.
Counselors would place me in the classes, but counselors didn't really tell me you can or can't do it because they were never really there for me. All they were there is in the beginning of the school year when they were trying to give me my schedule and figure out what teacher I was going to have the class for. I honestly did not visit the counselors for other reasons rather than changing my schedule around.... I was in their office waiting for an hour, then I got to see them for two minutes. It seemed like a doctor, I was seeing a doctor.
My counselor was never there. I would go day after day after day trying to look for her, and she would make me impossible appointments after school, which I couldn't make, and she just thought I wasn't willing to stay after school because I was lazy. I overheard this conversation. I overheard her say this and I felt horrible.
But in terms of the emotional things, she was very rarely readily available because we had a shortage in amount of faculty, particularly those in counseling. If they needed to talk to you, it had to be about school, about going into college. They're not there for emotional support.
I think counselors are supposed to be there also to help you with your personal problems and your personal life, but none of the counselors got to that point with me. My other counselors, I remember there was one male counselor, I remember him because he was the one assigned to me. I think I only went to see him once or twice, and it was only because I needed a form, or a signature, or something like that.
My other counselors, I can say they were mean because they only paid attention to the people that they wanted to. And it wasn't the people that needed the help because they were the low-income people or the people that really needed help other from attending school. They needed help when it came to their parents, and their parents taking them to school, and the violence at home. They weren't helping them, but yet they were helping all the athletic people, all the popular kids, and all the rich kids of the school. But people like me who don't come from those rich families, and don't come from the established families, weren't getting the help that we needed.
They had very low expectations of me. I had a very bad counselor because we have different high schools for different grades, and my freshmen year and sophomore year counselor, she didn't want me to take the THEA or anything like that. She was always like, "No. Why do you want to enroll in pre-AP classes or AP?"
They only had to take care of us applying and us taking the test [ACT]. Whether we passed it or not, it didn't matter. And I think that's where they went wrong because they only cared about getting us into a college, at least for the honor students. But they never cared to or at least they didn't care about me going into an Ivy League school or at least trying to apply for one.
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