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South Hagerstown High School counselor enjoys diversity of job

February 04, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

National School Counseling Week is this week. The theme for 2008 National School Counseling Week is "School Counselors: Creating Pathways to Success." The American School Counseling Association states on its Web site, www.school counselor.org, that "This week helps focus public attention on the unique contribution of professional school counselors within U.S. school systems. National School Counseling Week highlights the tremendous impact that counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career."/

HAGERSTOWN - Susan Starsinic says she's happiest when she's busy.

That's why her job as a school counselor at South Hagerstown High School is a good fit, she said. Starsinic has been at the school for seven years and is the department chair and testing coordinator, overseeing state assessments and other tests students take at the school.

Starsinic also works with the school's English language learners.

She was an instructional assistant at Springfield Middle School before taking the counselor job at South Hagerstown High.

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"I thought I wanted to teach," she said. "I realized I loved the school setting, but counseling offered more diversity in the job."

Adding to her workload and diversity in her job, Starsinic also is a counselor two nights each week at Evening High School, where high school students who do not attend day school for some reason attend classes in the evening.

Starsinic, who is a North Hagerstown High School graduate, said her job includes mostly academic and social counseling, and also providing support to students who need it. Often, she said, if a student is having problems in class, there is a problem at home, too, or in the student's personal life.

Starsinic is one of four counselors at South Hagers- town High School. There are 58 school counselors and two career technicians working in Washington County's public schools, according to spokesman Will Kauffman.

Despite South Hagerstown High's size -- about 1,300 students -- Starsinic said counselors get to know the students with whom they work. The school is divided into small learning communities and three of the counselors work with a particular "house" with about 430 students.

"Obviously, our population is growing, but (small learning communities) help counselors get to know students," she said. "Before, I think it was easier for them to fall through the cracks."

Counselors will meet with every student they work with at some point. Counselors help students stay on track to graduate, making sure they get all of the necessary credits. Starsinic also said counselors assist students with scholarships and help them make decisions about college

When Starsinic started working as a school counselor, federal No Child Left Behind legislation had recently been put in place. More structured assessments were just getting started, she said, and in her first year the state piloted the High School Assessments.

Those got off to a somewhat rocky start, she said. Students knew that whether or not they passed the tests would not affect them. Some students refused to take the test at all, Starsinic said.

"Now, they've realized it matters," she said.

Students who entered high school in 2005-06 and who are expected to graduate in 2009 are the first group of students who must pass the High School Assessments in order to receive a Maryland high school diploma, according to Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction Donna Hanlin.

Whether it's testing, college preparation, course selection or helping students with a personal problem, Starsinic said she enjoys "doing all of the different things that my job includes."

"I like interacting with the kids, and I like doing the testing," she said.

Starsinic also enjoys her role at Evening High School.

"I give them the support they need," she said. "You really can see when you make a difference there."

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