Career counseling earlier than expected

  • The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently published new guidelines for counseling in Wisconsin schools.
  • The guidelines are voluntary but encourage more proactive counseling at all grade levels.
  • The DPI encourages counselors to develop academic success in students, and to educate students about career opportunities in their areas of interest.
  • Schools in every district of Wisconsin now have programs in place in accordance with these guidelines.

New guidelines for school counseling in Wisconsin, recently developed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, encourage a comprehensive counseling effort throughout the PK-12 system, said Patrick Gaspers, communications officer for the Department of Public Instruction.

Gaspers said the guidelines focus on students' academic success, personal and social growth and career decisions.

Last February the DPI published the Wisconsin Comprehensive School Counseling Model, Gaspers said. He said the DPI had to reprint the guidelines just two months later because of popularity.

He said schools can voluntarily follow these guidelines, but more and more schools have been utilizing them as opportunity permits.

"We need to start getting more involved with students earlier to help students decide what they would like to pursue," Gaspers said. "We need to be proactive rather than reactive, and counselors need to be more actively involved with students."

All Wisconsin school districts currently have multiple strategies in place according to these new guidelines, said Doug White, director of Student Services, Wellness and Prevention for the DPI.

"This model outlines the best practices to help assure that strategies are systematic, available to all students and aligned with the best practices regarding career, social and academic development," White said.

White said individual counseling as well as small group counseling supports students in the development of the skills and knowledge necessary for effective decision-making, which in turn helps lower stress levels.

"Implementing the model does require new ways of thinking," White said. "It also depends upon partnerships with community organizations, including employers, to help students learn about the world of work."

White said each school district must determine for itself how great a priority this counseling is. He said they must also find the appropriate resources to dedicate to the development of this kind of guidance. These efforts require prepared counselors who have ample time to devote to this work.

St. John Vianney School in Brookfield, Wis., participates in the new counseling guidelines by employing a guidance counselor who visits classes every three weeks to teach lessons and meet with students individually, said Jayme Hartmann, principal of St. John Vianney School.

"Our eighth graders are finding the counseling very empowering because they now have so much prior knowledge when they take entrance exams or select classes in high school," Hartmann said.

Hartmann said she believes any negative feedback she has received from parents is mostly due to a lack of understanding of the program. She said this type of counseling is still too new for many people to fully understand.

"I had a parent tell me it was ridiculous that we were doing career counseling for eighth graders because he thought we were pigeonholing kids," Hartmann said. "This program actually does the complete opposite. We ask what the students are interested in and then show all the options that are open to them."

Hartmann said by focusing on what students are already interested in, these programs are actually encouraging something already instilled within the students. She said this gives kids a much more realistic environment from which they can stem.

"I am currently taking the level one training course for this program provided by the DPI, along with our school counselor," Hartmann said. "This training is instrumental in order to make this program successful. If administrators don't understand the purpose of counselors, how can we possibly use them to our benefit?"

The Milwaukee College Preparatory School, an elementary and middle school, focuses on ensuring that all alumni are able to overcome any obstacle they face in order to pursue successful futures, said Robert Rauh, principal of the school.

"Our goal is to have at least 93 percent of our graduates complete high school within five years of graduating from Milwaukee College Prep and to have at least 70 percent of our graduates attend college," Rauh said.

One role of Milwaukee College Prep's counselor is to coordinate the high school placement process for students, Rauh said.

He said this is done by visiting potential high schools, meeting with families of seventh graders to determine lists of appropriate schools, recommending summer opportunities, coordinating high school fairs, guiding the application process for each eighth grade student and conducting parent education programs, among other things.

Rauh said Milwaukee College Prep also supports alumni in their journey through high school and in their acceptance into college.