Balancing the needs of both high achieving and struggling students
Jeffrey C. Makris is the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology's first Director of College Counseling. He served as the Director of College Counseling at the High School of Economics and Finance since 2004 after beginning his school counseling career there in 1999 as a guidance counselor. Jeffrey has been active in the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling, and the College Access Consortium of New York, Inc. In June of 2009 he completed a three -year term on the Executive Board of NYSACAC as Co-Chair of the School - College Relations Committee, and in June of 2011 he was awarded the NYSACAC Distinguished Service Award. In July of 2012 he completed his term as Chair of CACNY, Inc.'s Board of Directors after serving on the Board for four years. For five years Jeffrey taught Counseling the College Bound Student, a graduate level course introducing students to the college counseling profession, for the University of California, Los Angeles through the UCLA Extension program. He earned his BS in Psychology from Binghamton University, S.U.N.Y. and his MSEd in School Counseling from Hunter College, C.U.N.Y.
“I heard that there’s an observatory on campus. Is that true?” “Chanda”, a junior, asked me excitedly at the start of our tour of Union College. “It is indeed,” I responded. “That is so awesome!” she replied and then sped up to get closer to the tour guide. I knew there was much about Union she would like; we had met many times since the start of that year and Chanda, a star student and leader amongst our student body, had a very good understanding of what she was looking for in her prospective colleges.
Since then we have spent a great deal of time together discussing her school options and scholarship possibilities, working on essays, and more. Her thoughtful search has led her to a select few institutions that represent what she believes to be great fits for her personality, values, and learning style. She reads every email I send her, hears my every suggestion, and makes me feel like the greatest college counselor who has ever walked the Earth.
Then we have “Jalen”…
Jalen is more representative of the majority of the students with whom I work. In fact, he is more at-risk than most; expecting him to both graduate in June and successfully enroll in college may be overly optimistic. But he has made some progress, and he clearly needs one-on-one assistance each step of the way if he is to achieve these goals.
Simply getting Jalen through the SAT registration process and complete a draft of the CUNY application has taken several weeks of slow, sometimes painstaking, hands-on help. Seeing him gets this far makes me feel good about the value of this work, but I worry about how much he still doesn’t understand and can’t help but question my skills as a college counselor as a result. And we have much left to do…while many other students are also asking for my time.
A Day in the Life
On any given day in the College Office I will work with a few “Chandas,” a few “Jalens,” and a host of those who would fall somewhere in between. I am often caught between trying to help one student finalize his New York Times Scholarship essays or finish the application for a diversity overnight weekend at a selective private college and helping another student with limited literacy skills complete last minute registration for the December SAT or coaxing him to add an all-important community college to his list of CUNY choices. Multiple students wait in my office for very different services. They are all important, and they all take up time and energy.
How do you help one without losing the other?
In most cases you just don’t have quite enough time to do everything you’d like to do in a day. That’s the reality most of us face when working in urban public schools. We all must choose how we are going to spend our limited time. I try to be as fair as I can; students who have high aspirations and are willing to work for them deserve support, but they are often more capable than those who are the least prepared. My ideal day involves having worked with a number of students on multiple issues from across the spectrum of our student body. But some days that can be very hard to achieve, and I often go home feeling as if I have neglected someone.
What strategies do you employ to make sure that you are meeting the needs of the variety of students with whom you work?