When I left my office on March 13, I took what I needed in case I would be working from home for a few weeks. The prospect seemed possible and probable at that time. The list of counseling office responsibilities during the last months of the school year is long and filled with many gatherings. My school has 3,400 students in grades 9 through 12. Recognition ceremonies dominate that time of the year, as is the case in all high schools. Collection of information from our seniors and the preparation of our underclassmen for the next school year fill the days of our counselors. Once it was announced we would not return for the rest of the school year, the transition to online delivery of services was swift. Within the first few weeks, many services, including conducting special education annual review conferences, enrollment intakes, and scheduling meetings began occurring virtually. Checking in with our most vulnerable students occurred daily. Professional development continued via Zoom each week and regional conferences were also attended virtually. A plan was set up to recognize students in different ways, since in-person events had to be canceled.
We are an office of 10 counselors. Each counselor has an average caseload of 375 students. Throughout the spring, we worked on our many duties via email, phone calls, and Zoom meetings. Conversations that would normally take place up and down the hallway that connects our offices, took place in an unending stream of emails. The collegiality that exists within our department was on full written display. Thankfully, because we respect and rely on each other’s opinions, much of our work was still handled as a group and not in isolation.
As seniors reported their plans via the senior exit poll, counselors moved to prepare the juniors for their senior year. All juniors were invited to participate in our college application and essay workshop to be held in the fall. Nearly 200 students signed up to participate virtually this summer. An instructional video encouraging the students to begin the writing process has been sent out. Each week of the summer we will send out information around the “how” of applying to their colleges. The college counselors from surrounding school districts in our area have created a shared file to keep resources for each of us to use with our own students. As college boot camps were canceled, this resource has been invaluable. The college admission representatives from the area that have assisted in the process, have donated their time and expertise to add to the library of information. It has been a wonderful collaboration. Having this resource helps calm the fears of not being able to help our students directly.
As we look to the fall, we may be opening virtually. The application workshop may be held via Zoom. I have confidence about navigating the process and the ways we will continue to serve our students. We have adapted and changed our way of serving our students. As a large counseling office, we have found there are many ways to meet the needs of our students. We now have more resources to use and an expertise we may not have cultivated, if not forced to do so. However, one thing remains true; nothing can replace in-person counseling and gatherings. We are looking forward to that day!
NACAC member Nancy J. Herndon is director of college counseling and department chairperson at Hamilton Southeastern High School (IN). She is a past president of the Indiana Association of College Admission Counseling and currently serves on NACAC’s Member Relations Committee.