College and Career Counseling Fuels Achievement After High School

The Slice – Fall 2014: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Everybody wants their children to graduate from high school and make their way to a better future, whether a four-year college, community college, or successful career. In recent years, PiE has provided additional resources to Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools to expand the College and Career Counseling programs at both schools so that students may achieve just that.

Together with the work of Guidance Counselors, Teacher Advisors, and dozens of parent volunteers, the College and Career Counselors funded by PiE at the Gunn and Paly College and Career Centers make a difference in the lives of our high school students—both during high school, and beyond.

Gunn Expands Counseling Staff to Improve College and Career Support

Gunn Career CounselingThis fall, Gunn’s new College Career Center opened in a dedicated portable classroom on Gunn’s campus. With the funds provided to Gunn by PiE, the center was able to double the resources available to help students with college counseling and post-graduation pathways. Staffed by two dedicated counselors as well as a college specialist, the Center gives students a place to research colleges, meet one-on-one with counselors, and attend workshops for the college application process.

During their junior year, every Gunn student meets one-on-one with either counselor Linda Kirsch or Monica Espinoza. “We are educated on the whole bandwidth of opportunities for students,” says Kirsch, “from DeAnza and other community colleges through the whole range of four-year colleges. We can help students (and their parents, if they choose) find options to thrive after high school.”

Adds Espinoza: “We want students to go to the right colleges, so they ‘stick.’ We want them to get a bachelor’s degree.” In addition to counseling all juniors, Espinoza oversees the College Pathways program that provides support for students whose parents did not attend college. She also runs workshops for students focused on completing the college packet, UC and CSU admissions, the Common App, and refining the college “list.”

Kirsch and Espinoza support the senior application process by facilitating college essay writing workshops, assisting with student essays, collaborating with the Guidance Counselors for all senior applications, and helping seniors choose among competing offers from schools. Leighton Lang, Gunn’s college specialist, adds another layer of support by helping families with financial aid applications and coordinating the efforts of the 20 or more volunteers who regularly help out in the center.

With support from PiE, along with Gunn’s dedicated staff and volunteers, 500 graduating Gunn students every year receive top-notch college and career support. “We wanted to improve the counseling services we offer our students,” explains Assistant Principal Tom Jacoubowsky. “Thanks to PiE, we’ve been able to do that.”

Paly Integrates Counseling and Writing Support for College Applications

Paly Writing RoomAlthough Paly’s system for Guidance Counseling differs from Gunn’s, the aim of the Paly College and Career Center is the same as Gunn’s: To offer the best possible assistance to students who are applying to colleges, so that all students may be successful after high school.

Paly has a ‘three tiered’ model of student guidance and support that is made possible in part through donations to PiE, including Teacher Advisors, Guidance Counselors, and College and Career advising. The dedicated counselors in the College and Career Center, including one full-time, credentialed staff member, Sandra Cernobori, another College Advisor, Alice Erber, and the Community Service and Career Advisor, Christina Owen, are all partly funded by PiE. They begin working with students during the winter of their junior year with an orientation for all students (offered through the social studies classes) focused on post high school exploration options and resources. After the orientation, students make one-on-one appointments to discuss their college or career searches.

Center staff help students explore career options, host visits from college representatives, advise juniors and seniors on post-high school planning and college preparation and applications (including essay review). Each year more than 150 college representatives visit Paly, and the center, along with the sixty or so parent volunteers, coordinates these important meetings. Counselors also organize a group for students whose parents did not attend college, for extra support. And counselors work with the Teacher Advisors to help ensure that every student is supported in the efforts to find the right “fit” after high school.

In addition to this counseling system, PiE also supports Paly’s effort to improve writing by helping to fund the school’s new Writing Center. This support hub, which is located in the library, offers help with writing in all subjects along with targeted assistance with college essays.

“The purpose of the writing center is to get kids and teachers collaborating on writing and figuring out steps and resources together,” says Paly Assistant Principal Kathie Laurence. The center will allow students to work with the same teacher multiple times on a piece of writing, including their essays. In addition, the Writing Center aims to foster relationships and give students additional adult advocates at school.

“The transition away from high school is one of the most important changes a student will make,” says Cernobori. “We are excited to help our students choose a college or career path that maximizes their potential. And we can work one-on-one with students partly because of the resources provided by donations to PiE.”