We’re baaaaack! College counselors dealing with the challenges of the new school year
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.
It is a beautiful, warm, sunny mid –summer day. My three year old daughter and I have just gotten back from one of our morning park excursions. We have lunch, and I let her watch a few minutes of Frozen to help her wind down before her nap. As she flies around the room, arms wide, smiling and doing her best to match Elsa’s wailing of Let it Go, I suspect the movie watching may have had the opposite effect. I watch her and realize how fortunate I am as an educator to be able to experience these precious moments, and how happy I am to share these seemingly endless summers with her. But, something inside has begun to gnaw away at my fatherly bliss…the endless summer will soon come to an end, and there will be much work to be done.
A sign of things to come
I try to stay on top of email regularly over the summer. Things are slow, and most of the questions or emails I do receive can be managed with relative ease. Sometimes, however, I will get something that shocks me back to reality and foreshadows what lies in store for the fall. Soon after the Common Application opens up at the start of the month of August I receive an email from a student who has already applied to a college he visited back in the spring. Clearly he was taken in by the institution’s carefully worded and enticing “fast track” application. I wondered, was this a good choice for him at this time? When applying, did he indicate his HEOP eligibility, which would make an admissions decision implausible until at least mid –January anyway? Did he even understand that he had actually submitted an application already (my subsequent email exchange with him revealed that he did not)? This was a motivated student who was very responsive to my efforts to guide him over the course of his junior year, but in some ways his motivation makes him vulnerable. His premature application and the confusion he revealed when I emailed him for clarification reminded me just how much support some of my students are going to need, and how much time and energy it will require for me to provide it once the school year begins.
The Freshman Retreat
My current institution runs a valuable program for incoming ninth grade students. It is a two day retreat in upstate New York during which students and staff participate in cooperative games and other activities, bond, and learn our school culture. It is a dizzying two days (especially if your bunkmates like to stay up talking at night) right before Labor Day weekend, but well worth it. As I head home after our bus arrives back in New York City on Friday, I feel a sense of accomplishment to have been a part of the event. But another feeling soon takes over…I have not done enough to get the college office ready for next week, and the clock is ticking.
Ice Breakers and Relay Races
The following week we are all officially back to work. Our entire school staff is running a relay race up and down the halls of our building carefully holding balloons between their elbows. Some “pop” as they are passed from one teacher to another. Everyone is smiling, laughing, and any ice that may have restrained conversation is soon broken.
Our administration is adept at building a collaborative and welcoming school culture. Our teachers and students all feel a real sense of community, one that is in no small part due to the activities built in to staff professional development particularly at the start of the year. I get it, and I don’t diminish the importance of taking part of these activities. Yet, as I move from one meeting to the next, I am haunted by a tiny voice in my ear…“you need to get to work….”
During the second half of the first day of school I am able to get to my office. My fantastic new office…but one in which the computers aren’t yet set up to print, so I seek out or new IT specialist, who fortunately fixes the problem with minimal effort. I move on to the mountain of mail that has arrived over the summer, a pile with which most college counselors will be familiar. I sift through to find what is most pressing…PSAT student guides, updated SUNY or CUNY materials, June test scores, and test fee waivers. The ACT fee waivers have arrived but the SAT fee waivers have not. I call Collegeboard to remedy that concern and then sit down at my computer. Programs and summer school grades need to be reviewed, our September Parent Night needs to be set up and publicized, forms for my class presentations need to be duplicated, and a host of other tasks need to get done as soon as I can. I eat lunch at 4:00 and head home after a ten hour day feeling as if I have not scratched the surface of the tasks I need to have completed. Two days until the students arrive.
It is hard to match the excitement of the first day of school, even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. We race all morning to distribute programs and metro cards, usher students to and from classes, educate them regarding what has changed and what is expected of them this year. I am greeted with many smiles by my seniors, even those who are upset to hear that they really can’t drop Trigonometry and have a longer school day than they had hoped for. The whirlwind of activity keeps my energy elevated throughout the day. I am eager to see my students and already need to arrange countless conversations, but I am also desperate for those precious moments of quiet time I need to get back to the administrative duties required to run the college office and serve as guidance counselor for the senior class. The days of watching my daughter sing along with Elsa seem like ages ago.
So how do you do it?
As a college counselor in an urban public school, I really shouldn’t complain about my workload. Feeling stretched too thin is the norm; there is a great deal of work to be done, and many of our students, from the top of the rank list to the bottom of the class, will need a wealth of support from us in their college search and application process until the very end of their high school careers. I am fortunate to be at a stage in my career where I can rely upon my experience, training, mentors, and professional network to help me navigate the most difficult challenges of the year. My involvement in organizations such as CACNY, NYSACAC and NACAC has been incredibly valuable. Others are not so fortunate. You may be new to the profession, or being asked to teach multiple classes while trying to provide college counseling, or be assigned a caseload of hundreds of students. Whatever your situation, one thing likely holds true for all of us; there will be many long, arduous days ahead before the next endless summer begins.
How do you manage to meet the demands upon your time at the start of the new school year? How do you provide critical college counseling services while being faced with a host of additional responsibilities?