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Staying on the right track

September 27, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Neither Josh Carson nor Barbie Barvir has chosen a college major or career path yet, but with the aid of Smithsburg High School guidance counselor Krista Downs, they aren't panicking.

Making sure students are on track to graduate and getting their college applications or career plans prepared are just a few of the tasks Downs does as a high school guidance counselor.

There are 471/2 guidance counselors to serve Washington County's elementary, middle and high schools, said John Verderosa, supervisor of pupil personnel and guidance services.

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Many parents might recall having little or no contact with their guidance counselors, but Tri-State area school officials said more of an effort is made to talk to all students - not just ones who have problems or are exceptional students.

Guidance counselors in the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District's junior high and high schools started seeing every student at least once a year about five years ago, said Janet Martin, chairwoman of the counseling department for grades eight through 12.

"We just don't want anybody to fall through the cracks and with this many students, they do," Martin said. "If they don't come to us, we might not know they're having a problem."

There are more than 1,700 students in grades 10 through 12, Martin said.

This year, counselors are to see junior high and high school students at least twice a year, she said.

School officials for Washington County, Chambersburg, Berkeley County, W.Va., and Jefferson County, W.Va., said they have counselors for elementary through high school, though at the elementary-school level, one counselor might serve two or three schools.

At the elementary level, counselors are more likely to aid students through class presentations than in one-on-one meetings, educators said.

In Berkeley County Schools, topics guidance counselors talk to primary and/or elementary school students about include self-esteem, character education and careers, said George Michael, director of pupil services. The school system is trying to get training for its guidance counselors so they can explain to young students the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, Michael said.

High school counselors have a long list of activities to organize and topics to discuss with students, Tri-State educators said.

In Chambersburg, counselors arrange Financial Aid Night, the college fair, give the PSAT and SAT tests and make sure seniors have the credits needed to graduate, among many other tasks, Martin said.

Downs is spending much of September meeting one-on-one with seniors about what they still need to do to graduate and what preparations they are making for postsecondary life, whether it's college or a job.

Neither Barvir nor Carson has settled on a major for college, but Downs tells them not to worry about that for now.

Carson, 17, of Smithsburg, had been leaning toward journalism, but has broadened his possibilities to include a career path involving math or science.

"You're still playing, which is fine," Downs tells him as the two huddle in her office going over his file.

Carson already had applications for seven of eight colleges he's applying to and has spoken to at least one teacher about a letter of recommendation.

"You're on the ball as far as what you need. If you need something, ask," Downs tells him.

Barvir, 17, of Ringgold, needed a technology education course for the spring semester and decided on word processing after asking Downs which would be more beneficial to her. Other possibilities included photography and computer programming.

While Barvir has done enough community service work to meet the 75-hour requirement for graduation, she hasn't documented it all, so that must be done.

She is set to take the SAT, which happens to fall on the same day as homecoming, and goes over which colleges she wants to apply to with Downs.

"Did I stress you out?" Downs asks at the end of their roughly 15-minute meeting.

"No. You just made me realize I'm going to graduate from high school," Barvir said.

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