Counseling in the 21st Century: An Actionable Case Study of a University-K-12 Partnership

Poster Number


Lead Author Affiliation

Educational Administration & Leadership


The national postsecondary educational attainment gap is magnified and being experienced in local K-12 school districts on a large scale. As a result, K-12 administrators at the local county office of education (COE) were seeking a partnership to assess and implement programming to address the local educational attainment gap.


The purpose of this study is to explore how a partnership between a local K-12 educational agency and university researchers took action to create strategies and increase capacity for school counselors to empower them to engage underserved students and their families as partners in the postsecondary process.


This study employs a critical-empirical approach to research the social inequity of postsecondary access for underserved students. Specifically, we use the Action Inquiry Model (AIM) proposed by Edward St. John (2013). AIM encourages collaboration between scholars and practitioners as they identify a question worthy of investigation and then embark on pilot studies with the explicit focus of reducing inequality. This study is part of a larger research study rooted in a university led summer bridge program for local underperforming 8th and 9th grade students and their families. For purposes of this manuscript we focus on one pilot study, the establishment and study of the counselor created network. As co-directors for a university-led summer bridge program we had established strong ties with local K-12 administrators. Thus, these connections created the opportunity for the local COE administrators to reach out and request an exploratory meeting. The purpose of the initial one-hour meeting with the COE was to determine how the lessons we had learned in running the summer bridge program could facilitate a partnership to address postsecondary inequalities and provide professional learning opportunities for school counselors. We held a follow up one hour meeting to discuss the goals of the partnership and the strategies for recruiting counselors. The mutually agreed upon goal of the partnership was to increase capacity for local school counselors by creating a collaborative counselor network. To achieve this goal, we decided to recruit local school counselors to participate in a collaborative counselor network. The two partner ECOE administrators invited professional school counselors from underperforming middle and secondary schools serving districts with the highest level of underserved populations. The recruitment effort occurred over a two-month period and consisted of our partners sending a mutually created flyer to district administrators, making announcements at three collaborative site administrator meetings, and making phone calls to site administrators to publicize the first meeting and encourage counselors to attend. In addition, we recruited from the K-12 contacts we had made during the summer bridge program. We sent out the flyer via email, and made follow-up phone calls. Initially, selection criteria for the participating counselor educators was: (1) articulated (within the same K-8 or 7-8 school feeder pattern) teams comprised of 3-4 members, (2) demonstrated interest in working to increase the number of college and/or career ready high school graduates by developing programs to engage families, and (3) demonstrated interest in working with professional school counselors from other school sites to network and share resources. Our partners provided meeting space, administrative support, snacks, and materials. Counsleors were invited to a two-hour informational meeting. They provided contact information, signed informed consent forms, and agreed to be contacted by email. At the informational meeting, monthly meeting days/times were agreed upon. Seven monthly meetings, two hours in length were held. Six were held at the COE and one was held on the university campus. We created and sent weekly email messages with resources, news and meeting agendas and reminders. In addition, we conducted one 30 minute interview with our partner administrators, follow up questions were sent via one email to each administrator. We conducted semi-structured one-hour interviews with five of the participating counselors. We gathered demographic data from the participating counselors through use of google forms. Data were collected over a 10-month period and included meeting transcriptions, meeting notes, interviews with the partner COE administrators, interviews with the participating counselors, field notes, researcher reflections, email correspondence, and document analysis. Data were analyzed used QDA4 Miner lite to code and identify emerging themes. As themes emerged, we conducted member checking through researcher collaboration as well as collaboration with our COE partners.


Findings: Building Bridges The COE administrators in this study were challenged to improve student outcomes and increase postsecondary rates for students from underserved communities. They knew that family engagement in the academic process could help improve these rates but addressing families county-wide was not feasible. Hence, school counselors were identified as key partners to addressing the challenge but administrators needed to find meaningful ways to network and empower counselors to collaborate. As a result of the pilot study this network of counselors have crossed district boundaries and are empowered to create site based resources. The following themes emerged: Building a culture. The current climate of educational reform and change is occurring at a dizzying pace. This can create isolation, confusion, and can leave district administrators, educators, counselors, and the students and families that they serve feeling shell-shocked. The power of the COE administrators as our partners created a safe space where school counselors crossed institutional barriers to collaborate. As school site administrators are pressured to fulfill the requirement to graduate every high school student college and/or career ready the counselors in this network are empowered to take steps to define what that means for their school sites. For example, one high school site took action to create a morning coffee for families. The coffee meetings are held in the morning during school drop off time. Parents are empowered with the knowledge to understand transcripts, graduation requirements, college entrance requirements, and meet their child’s counselor. Steps like these are helping to initiate a culture for academic success among the students, families, and administrators. This grassroots effort has built a bridge to other school personnel as the school principal regularly attends the meetings and invites parents to meet with him, the site librarian has offered to create a story hour for younger siblings, and teachers on their prep period have requested to be guests at the coffee. These counselors are causing the school leadership to take intentional steps toward transforming the school culture. Counselor empowerment. The process of empowering counselors, many who have had multiple disempowering experiences (i.e. layoffs, lack of acknowledgement of skills, poor portrayal in the media), occurred quicker than we had anticipated. Immediately the counselors felt valued when they were invited to participate in the network. Our partners validate the experience these counselors bring to the table. They plan to have this core group eventually take on the role of counselor leader, to train other counselors in the county. In response, this group of six regularly attending members are in the process of planning a fall county-wide professional development summit for all counselors. In addition, they plan to reach out to counseling interns to network and engage them early in the process. All of the counselors identified isolation as one of the biggest challenges of their work. This collaboration provides resources, increases contacts, and increases capacity for all counselors in the network. This suggests that building bridges across districts can empower counselors to take action and come out of isolation to engage colleagues and pre-service counselors. Increasing visibility and connecting to the community will lead to a greater understanding of the professional skills held by school counselors thereby strengthening the public perception. Importance of early adopters. School counselors are strained by high student caseloads. In the county where this study is situated the current ratio is 1 to 475. Hence, it is not surprising that our initial attendance of 10 counselors has fallen to 6 dedicated individuals. However, they bring a vast array of technology skills to the table which has transferred to the other counselors. For example, one counselor has created a You Tube channel covering different topics; how to register, what to expect as an entering 9th grader, and one for families explaining school policies and online tools. Another member in the group is now investigating this as an option to reach families who cannot attend traditional back to school nights. As their workloads increased these counselors looked for innovative ways to increase their capacity. This suggests that early adopters provide resources and know-how to help their colleagues reach families and students providing them access to resources not otherwise readily available.


By the end of the decade, over 60% of jobs will likely require education beyond high school and over half will require a four-year degree (Moore, Bridgeland, & Dilulio, 2010). Current rates of degree attainment in the United States will fall nearly short by nearly 20 million college educated adults (Lumina Foundation, 2009). While there is a cry to raise the educational achievement of all students at the same time there is a limit on educational spending and counseling programs are held accountable for improved rates of postsecondary access (House &Hayes, 2002). Stakes around resource allocation are high – counselors can be at the leading edge of turning college/career readiness numbers around but cannot do this work in isolation (Lewis & Forman, 2002; St. John et al., 2014). Sheldon (2003) calls for programs to “reorient towards adult learning… to lay the foundation on which to build the ties” (p. 25). Meaning to build a foundation for a program, all adults vital to the process must be engaged to create a collaborative goal. He found that capacity building has to be the very fabric to create a “multi-stakeholder dialogue” thereby expanding access to resources and knowledge (p. 25). To address these persistent inequities in postsecondary options for underrepresented students and their families school counselors must be engaged in meaningful and transformative ways.


DeRosa University Center, Stockton campus, University of the Pacific


Poster Presentation

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Apr 25th, 10:00 AM Apr 25th, 12:00 PM

Counseling in the 21st Century: An Actionable Case Study of a University-K-12 Partnership

DeRosa University Center, Stockton campus, University of the Pacific

The national postsecondary educational attainment gap is magnified and being experienced in local K-12 school districts on a large scale. As a result, K-12 administrators at the local county office of education (COE) were seeking a partnership to assess and implement programming to address the local educational attainment gap.