Students Fill Guidance Counselor Gap

Peer counseling
At the end of 11th grade, Corniche Bunton learned something disturbing: she was 112 credits short and might not graduate from Oakland Technical High School on time.

"At first I was in tears," says Bunton. "When they pulled my transcript, they were like, 'Oh my goodness, you're really behind. You might have to take a whole nother year of high school.'"

Bunton admits she wasn't always focused. But the bigger problem, she says is that she didn't get the counseling she needed to keep her on the college track — an all too common story in America's big city schools.

Oakland Tech has almost 17,000 students and four counselors, says the school's Assistant Principal Staci Ross-Morrison.

That's about 420 students per counselor. Sometimes the lines outside their doors block the hallways.

"It's hard to get to know and see every single student," says Ross Yokomura, an Oakland Tech guidance counselor.

Everybody knew the counseling system was stretched to the breaking point for all the obvious reasons: big urban school, not enough money. But nobody knew what to do about it.

No adult, that is.

So, the students stepped in. They surveyed their classmates at Oakland Tech, where almost 40 percent don't graduate, and came up with a solution: train students to serve as peer counselors.

Student organizer Marlisa Gonzalez says peer counselors wouldn't replace adult counselors — they would just help them to help students.

"I want to give them information about financial aid, like where to get your transcript ... these are the classes you need to take," says Gonzalez.

The students convinced Oakland Tech administrators to give peer counseling a try next year.

"We see it as helping everybody, alleviating the stress off the counselors and helping the children," says Ross-Morrison.

"From my perspective, I think it helps lessen my load, and I think it could work," says Yokomura.

"I wish I had like a peer counselor," says Bunton.

Bunton had to double up her course load to catch up this year — an added senior-year anxiety that peer counselors might have helped her avoid.