“We are training school counselors who can make a difference,” says Melissa Ockerman, assistant professor in the College of Education.
DePaul’s graduate school counseling program is the first in Illinois (and only the 24th in the nation) to affiliate with The Education Trust’s National Center for Transformative School Counseling Initiative, a distinction that brings national recognition to the program. The initiative aims to transform school counselors into powerful agents of change who can help close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for low-income students and students of color.
Ockerman explains the evolution of the counselor’s role: “In the mid-90s, the Education Trust proposed changes in the way school counselors are trained and in the way they work. Until then, counselors were somewhat ancillary to a school’s mission; they seemed to say, ‘We’ll wait for students to come to us with problems.’ But now, counselors with the right training are active participants in a student’s success — academic, social, and personal.”
In 2006, the College of Education changed the curriculum of the graduate school counseling program and formed a partnership with Chicago Public Schools so that, as part of their training, DePaul graduate students could work in K-12 schools assessing students’ needs, designing interventions, and presenting their research at professional conferences.
“Our students are trained in the new core competencies above and beyond counseling: advocacy, leadership, data assessment, teamwork, and collaboration,” says Erin Mason, assistant professor. “As a result, they’re positioned to lead; even in their first jobs, they’re ahead of the curve.”
That pays off for graduates of the program.
When Madeeha Afridi (MA ’11) went to an international recruiting fair in February, she quickly got offers from five different American schools overseas. “I’m speechless trying to describe my experience at DePaul,” she says. “The rigor of the program made me a lot more competitive as a job candidate. At the same time, I got an extraordinary amount of support from teachers and academic advisors. When my sister began looking into an MA in counseling, I told her not to waste her time applying to other programs: DePaul’s is the best in Chicago and in Illinois.”
Everyone else benefits, too — students, families, schools, and communities.
“At DePaul, we were expected to ask: ‘How can I make changes for the good?’” says Kathryn McAuley (MA ’08). “Now, as a counselor at Kelvyn Park High School, I’m developing programs that fit with the school’s goals for the students. For example, I’ve created three small groups to address students’ needs for better study habits, stress management, and grief management. This is not a 9-3 job: I’m making a difference in my students’ lives.”
Michelle Dluzak (MA ‘09) recalls her “closing the gap” project as a grad student.
“Along with another DePaul student, I created a gay-straight alliance at a high school, but only after doing research to determine the needs of the students. We met with students once a month for six months, then compared before and after: How did the alliance make the participating students feel? Did awareness and tolerance increase in the school and in the community? The program did make a difference, and the group is still in place. That was an amazing experience.”
Currently a school counselor at Ames Middle School, Dluzak says she uses all the tools she learned at DePaul in her day-to-day job. “I’m in the classroom, the lunch room, and the hallways; I’m working with the teachers. And, even though my students are only in middle school, I’m talking about college – ‘What are you thinking about doing after high school?” – because drop-out rates are so high. I’m engaged in the students’ lives, and I’m advocating for their futures.”
“Our motto could be ‘Learn more to do more,’” says Ockerman.