Philly school counselors struggle to help seniors with college plans

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    As application deadlines loom for many of the nation’s top colleges, guidance counselors in Philadelphia’s traditional public high schools are scrambling to ensure that the needs of all students are met.

    According to Philly School Counselors United, staff shortages due to budget cuts have made the undertaking “frantic” for counselors and a “struggle” for the school district’s seniors.

    Christine Donnelly is the only guidance counselor for the Academy at Palumbo’s more than 800 students.

    It’s hard, she said, to juggle the college prospects of her 182 seniors while taking care of the emotional needs of students in the entire school.

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    “I have to pick and choose,” she said. “I can’t do them all”

    Donnelly’s caseload doubled this year after the Philadelphia School District’s budget woes forced it to sharply reduce districtwide staff.  Last year, the district employed 384 full-time counselors for 141,143 students – an overall ratio of one counselor for every 367 students. This year, the district employs 218 full-time counselors for 131,463 students – an overall ratio of one counselor for every 603 students.

    The American Counseling Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students.

    Ninety-nine of Donnelly’s seniors have pending applications to 438 schools. In order to process them in time for college deadlines, Donnelly said she’s had to turn away kids who have sought her for other counseling services.

    “I have this situation right now,” she said she has to tell the kids. “Is there anybody you feel close to that maybe you could talk to for a little bit, because I really can’t talk to you.”

    “And I hate that, but you know,” Donnelly said. “It is what it is.”

    High schools across the city have been feeling this same crunch. At Central, which boasts a 99 percent college-attendance rate, there are two counselors for 2,400 students. There, students must wait two weeks before seeing a counselor in a non-emergency situation.

    At Bodine High School, students didn’t have a full-time counselor until mid-November.

    Kensington Health and Science senior Chynna Caballero said staffing cuts have made her road to success even more of an uphill battle.

    “It’s a lot of pressure on me because I was expecting at least a little bit more help than I’m getting now,” she said. “I basically I feel that I have to do everything on my own.”

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