Axel Herrera Ramos, a Riverside High School senior and class president, is the first in his family to go through the Durham school system.
Navigating scheduling and post-graduate plans can be difficult without a parent or older sibling’s guidance, he said.
School counselors help fill this void, offering students academic and personal support in all grade levels. But Ramos believes counselors are currently overloaded and unable to give students the support they need.
“They are very restricted by the workload they have,” he said. “Some students don’t even know who their counselor is.”
Ramos was one of three student representatives from Durham Congregations, Associatons & Neighborhoods, a grassroots coalition, who asked the school board last week for more school counselors.
The students developed the proposal during listening sessions attended by more than 2,200 community members. After discussing concerns such as suspensions, poor resources and safety, they honed in on school counselors as their top priority.
“Too many students are assigned to one counselor, and with so many students it’s hard for counselors to seek out those who are falling behind in their studies,” Jordan High School senior Faith Jones said.
“I’ve seen students completely lose track of their education and become subject to gang recruitment, violence, and various crimes,” she said. “A lot of times they get so behind that they drop out and never receive their high school diploma.”
Jones said Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme has agreed to meet with the students Feb. 22, but she has asked him to move up the meeting due to the importance of the issue.
Durham schools currently have one school counselor for every 350 students, slightly better than the state ratio of one counselor for every 385 students. The nationally recommended ratio, however, is one for every 250, according to the American Counseling Association.
School board Chair Heidi Carter said the board has long been concerned about being below the recommended ratio, not only for counselors, but also for other staff positions such as nurses.
“We do invest local resources in having extra counselors over and above what the state provides,” she said.
Carter also echoed Ramos’ concerns about the lack of bilingual counselors.
He said the task of counseling immigrant students instead falls to ESL teachers, Spanish language teachers and even other students.
Carter said the board will consider the students’ request during budget discussions. The board will already be working to resolve a $9 million budget gap. Funding additional counselors would require further cuts elsewhere.