“It’s very hard to give all graduating seniors one-on-one support, especially when some of your day is finding those who are slipping through the cracks,” said Erica DeJesus, a school counselor at New World HS in the Bronx.
DeJesus is meeting virtually with students as part of a new UFT-Department of Education program offering one hour of free college and career counseling to high school juniors and seniors after school and on weekends. These one-on-one sessions help students and their families develop post-secondary plans, and include technical assistance with applications, information about financial aid, interview preparation and more.
DeJesus helped one senior finalize her college enrollment plans and reviewed financial aid forms with her family. She says the college application process was “hands on” before COVID-19, but remote learning has made it more challenging to deliver information to students and parents.
UFT School Counselors Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson said the UFT recognized how high school juniors and seniors were especially at risk when it included college and career counseling in its five-point plan for using new federal education funds to help students recover from the pandemic.
Patricia Doulis, a school counselor at Art and Design HS in Manhattan, said students are “burned out and tired of looking at screens,” which can hinder the college application process. When students attend in-person workshops and information sessions and visit colleges, they feel a sense of excitement and connection.
“In case students became very withdrawn and didn’t want to meet with their counselors, or they missed their appointments, we wanted to give them the opportunity to not give up,” said Thompson, who organized the program with UFT Vice President for Education Mary Vaccaro and UFT Special Representative Emma Mendez.
Joyce Ippolito, a school counselor at Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education HS on Staten Island, says the program “enables students to have individualized time focused solely on college and career counseling” when their school counselor may not be available. “That hour is very meaningful,” Ippolito said, “because you provide them with a wealth of information they need to make decisions” about college or career.
Ippolito said she has been covering in her one-hour sessions a range of topics, including career assessments and college resources, writing for resumes and college essays, and financial aid and scholarship information.
About 122 counselors who are college advisers are participating in the per-session program. Interested seniors can be connected with a CUNY or SUNY case manager who can provide tutoring, academic support and more planning support. Counselors are matched with students in their boroughs and are available Monday through Friday, 5 to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students can call 212-331-6329 for an appointment.
Doulis said because school counselors have many responsibilities, they aren’t always able to meet with students without distractions. “It’s great to offer extra support,” she said, “especially at a time when it’s so difficult.”