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The High School Counselor Challenge 2015

Rachelle Bernadel is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA. She is also an IB graduate of Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland.

School counselors are one of the education world’s greatest resources. The multifaceted impact that many of them have on their students from social/emotional development to helping ground academic preparedness are things that I truly admire about this profession. On top of the heavy workloads and large amounts of students that many counselors experience on a daily basis, it never ceases to amaze me when they still find the time to create initiatives to bolster the development of their fellow colleagues. Former IB Theory of Knowledge instructor turned IB coordinator David Quinn from Edmonds- Woodway High School knows all about the hard work of these individuals. In this post, I wanted to give him an opportunity to tell you about a High School Counselor Challenge launched by his school to urge colleges and universities around the country to send underserved public high school counselors to the yearly National Association of College and Admissions Counselors (NACAC) Conference.  The IB has already challenged Eric Furda the Dean of Admissions from the University of Pennsylvania and he accepted!

This challenge not only has implications for the larger public education context, but also has striking relevance to IB students and counselors as well. Within the United States, almost one-third of the schools offering the Diploma Programme are Title I eligible, serving a significant proportion of low-income and free/reduced lunch receiving students. So the paradox here is that IB counselors at these schools are themselves underserved, have the potential to do so much more for their students but are restricted by the same barriers students face, access.

On that note, I will let David take it from here.

1. What was the catalyst for this challenge? Was it something you were planning for a while?

Every year at NACAC, we walk around and say the same thing:

“Heeeeeeeeeey, where are all the counselors from underserved public high schools?”

“Yea…where are they, right?”

“Yea…. Huh….”


And then a year would go by, and we would say:

“Heeeeeeeeeey, where are all the counselors from underserved public high schools?”

As it, somehow, a magic NACAC wand was going to be waved over the country, the barriers would disappear, and public school counselors were going to magically appear.

Lynda McGee, a counselor from a public school in Los Angeles, has been a real voice on this issue for several years. We actually met in New Orleans, and we have taken to the floor of the General Assembly for the past several years to voice our concern over the topic.  Ultimately, I decided that – if something was going to get done – I had to stop talking about the issue and DO something.

As someone who cares a great deal about issues of equity and inclusion, I created #hscc2015 to find a way to include underserved public high school counselors in our yearly national gathering of college admissions professionals.

NACAC is the premiere development opportunity for our profession, but the reality of public school budgets has created impossible barriers for many high school counselors. The end result is the worst of all worlds: Underserved students are seeking assistance from counselors who, themselves, have no access to the kinds of professional development opportunities their own students would most benefit from.  It is a vicious cycle, indeed.

#hscc2015 seeks to change that by leveraging college and university partners – and a bit of healthy competition – to bring an entire cohort of public high school counselors to NACAC 2015 in San Diego.

2. What were two ways that attending NACAC supported you as an IB counselor?

NACAC sessions are incredibly well-focused, and the presenters are the leading figures of the admissions world. My range of contacts – and the range of schools my students have access to – has grown exponentially since I began attending.  More importantly, though, I feel as though I am a part of a much larger picture. When I walk from session to session, I am with Deans, VPs, public school counselors, private school counselors – and I’m exposed to a variety of ideas and perspectives, literally from around the world. NACAC does many things very well – and bringing us all to the table is the very best things of all.

 3. Tell us a little bit about the logistics of the challenge?

I began with a series of phone calls and emails.  As schools committed, I simply kept a list of the “pre-loaded” challenges (the first few).  At the end of October. I began emailing schools, letting them know they could “TWEET AWAY!” and the hashtag (#hscc2015) lit up! First Bates College, then Pitzer College, and then Brandeis University.  I have to say that Johie Farrar Seltzer (at Bates) and Angel Perez (at Pitzer) have been my truest colleagues, in every great sense of the word. I would never have been able to establish this kind of success, this quickly, if not for Johie and Angel, rallying their forces!

From a pure logistics sense, since colleges and universities will be selecting the candidate, it is my hope that they will find a public high school counselor who is ready for the next step in their career; someone from their community – or from a community they know desperately needs help – that NEEDS this conference.  Once they get there, I’ll take care of the “how does a newcomer do this?” part of the problem.  Get them there.  Send someone who will be a local leader, an advocate for their students – and hungry for professional development and contacts. Together, we can do more than just help a bus of people go on a tour.  This is about getting someone to the next level – and using that person to reach the (perhaps) thousands of people in their building, year in and out.

That said, I am keeping  a list of counselors who have contacted me to say, “HELP!” And I hope to partner them with a sponsor.

4. Looking toward the next few NACACs, what do you think it will take for the High School Counselor Challenge to be sustainable?

 It will take a commitment from the national organization – and ALL of its partners.  This isn’t a one-off for me. Surely, something had to happen to finally get public high school counselors to the NACAC conference. But now it will take a great deal of vision, and strategy, and commitment, and capital, to make it happen.

5. How can schools and universities get more information?

Hey – the internet is your friend! Check out the feed on twitter @hscc2015 and #hscc2015   And also our site:

 HS Challenge Pic

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