2300 to one
by Kevin F. Adler
2300 to one. That was the student to college counselor ratio at Granada High School (CA) when we started the BetterGrads program there last fall. 2300 students, 1 college counselor (a second was on maternity leave). With last year's statewide budget cuts of 40% for college and career counselors, many public schools have had to settle with half as many counselors - or, I suppose, 0.6 of a counselor if they only had one to begin with - to serve a growing, increasingly complex student population. Education associations report that the counselor to student ratio should be 1 to 250 or lower. In 2000, the national average was 1 to 500. In the last ten years, that ratio has ballooned up to 1 to 750, and reaches as high as 1 to 5000 in some low-income school districts. At the cross-town rival high school, the ratio was was 2300 to one. When I returned from graduate school at Cambridge University and first discovered this situation, I began to wonder how many students in my beloved hometown weren't getting the college prep they needed. And IA wondered what I could do to help.
What we did
At Granada High School, we crowd-sourced college prep. We built a one-on-one college mentoring program for 22 juniors, led by college students and recent graduates as mentors, some of whom alumni of the school. We dubbed our efforts "the BetterGrads Program" and the students - ever more creative - called it the "CPC2012," short for the College Prep Club 2012, for the year the students planned to graduate and enroll in college. Students, mentors, and high school counselors connected on- and offline to form a community that extended beyond the classroom. Our focus was on creating student/mentee-run clubs as on-campus hubs of college information at the high schools, supported by a network of mentors with ties to the school. Mentors and mentees were paired according to similar interests and background. The relationship was supported by a year-long, month-by-month curriculum addressing the key areas of preparing for college success, including financial aid, choosing / applying to college, majors, careers, and how to make the most of college. Bimonthly club meetings among the mentees allowed for an in-person component to the curriculum, facilitated by the school's college counselor.
The students in the CPC2012 astounded us. By offering them a little bit of support, they accomplished a lot. They created a campus-wide college banner project to showcase teachers’ college affiliations and raise awareness of education options; they formed an SAT prep group to study for the test together; they organized field trips to visit local colleges and universities; and, for the first time, they wrote resumes, outlined personal statements, requested letters of recommendation, and applied for scholarships. As a capstone on the program year, we were thrilled to partner with a local family foundation to designate two $1500 BetterGrads - Pedrozzi Scholarships for two student-mentees active in the CPC2012 Club. Two equivalent awards have been designated for two students at Livermore High for next year, when we expand our programs there.