Our school counselors: a vital guiding resource

The first full week of February is National School Counseling Week, a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of our school counselors.

This year’s theme is School Counseling: Standards-Based, Student-Focused, speaking to the high standard of services that HISD’s counseling teams provide all year long. The mission of the HISD Counseling and Student Services Department is to ensure that scholars develop into lifetime learners and to advocate for their academic success and social-emotional well-being.

Talitha Pinkney, counselor at Lovett Elementary, was named HISD’s Elementary School Counselor of the Year in 2023. According to Pinkney, it is vital that counselors are able to spend at least 80% of their time working with students, either through guidance sessions, individualized counseling, or group counseling. Pinkney believes that the key to success in counseling is establishing a rapport with students as individuals so counselors become trusted adults who they can turn to in the face of a conflict or personal difficulty.

“As a counselor, you’re trained to know how to look for what a student’s needs are and to help them meet those needs,” said Pinkney. “I’m able to check their emotional temperature, so to speak, which means that if a student is upset or hurting, I can see that right away and have a check-in with them and can provide some strategies to help calm them down.”

HISD elementary counselors facilitate students’ earliest forays into choosing a future career path with their fifth-grade career portfolio, an exploration of the students’ interests and an informal introduction to different careers and colleges. These foundational resources carry on through middle and high school, and as high school students are readying to move on from HISD, their counselors’ focus shifts to help them navigate their post-secondary preparation.

Laura Dew, an instructional specialist at Westbury High School, along with Westbury’s Go Center counseling team was recently recognized by the nonprofit Reach Higher with the 2024 Excellence in College Counseling award. Founded by former first lady Michelle Obama, Reach Higher’s aim is to create access and equity in the college application process, an ambition that the Go Center team works toward at Westbury every day.

Like Pinkney, Dew prioritizes a focus on her students as individuals, as the high school and post-secondary experience is not universal, even within the same school. Dew and the Go Center team work with students from every walk of life: students who can’t afford college; students who will be the first in their family to graduate high school; students who never imagined that they had options for post-secondary besides immediately entering the career pool. Dew and her team focus on helping their students understand the full breadth of their post-secondary options.

HISD’s high school counselors help students through the college application process in the most fundamental ways, helping them obtain waivers for application fees, walking them through FAFSA and financial aid applications, and helping them to craft admissions essays that paint a picture of who they are and how they envision their future.

“Their orientation, their status, how many years they’ve been in the country—none of that matters,” said Dew. “They are a child sitting in front of you looking for advice and help. You have to meet them wherever they are and make sure that they feel supported and they feel like somebody believes in them.”

National School Counseling Week is Feb. 5-9.

To learn more about HISD’s Counseling and Student Services Department and their commitment to your student’s social-emotional and academic success, visit their website.