Navigating high school, life

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Despite stress, long hours and new requirements from Lansing, Notre Dame counselors can't imagine working anywhere else — and students are benefiting.

In early November, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation (House Bill 4181) that affects the 150 hours of professional development counselors must go through when they renew their licenses.

With the new rules, at least 25 P.D. hours must be on improving the college preparation and selection process and another 25 hours must be on career counseling. According to the new law, it applies to those renewing their high school guidance counselor credentials two years after January 2018, when the new rules take effect. 

"Equipping students with the tools and resources they need to decide on a career path and finding the right avenue to get there is critically important for long-term success," Snyder said in a news release posted after the signing ceremony. "This bill helps school counselors better serve students by expanding the focus on the diverse career and educational options that are available."

For Notre Dame's counseling group, headed by Vlado Salic, the new rules mean business as usual. That's because, Salic said, his staff already is in compliance or will be shortly.

"I do not expect the new bill will have a big impact on our department since most of us have already either completed the MCAN (Michigan College Access Network) program or are in the process," he said. 

MCAN is an organization that works to increase postsecondary readiness in Michigan and was one of the new legislation's early backers. "We already do many of the items that are included in the bill," Salic added. "We always seek out and try to take advantage of staff development opportunities as they become available. We actually welcome these changes as they will benefit many other students in Michigan who may not have access currently to a counseling function like ours."

Besides Salic, Notre Dame Prep's counseling "function" currently includes Stacy Golliff, Jason Whalen, Margie Bond and Jamie Rodda along with Denise Mahoney as administrative support. Jessica Yauch handles middle division counseling.

"Golliff and Rodda work with freshmen and sophomores and they focus on adjustment issues, self-awareness, healthy lifestyles and career exploration," Salic said. "Whalen, Bond, and I take care of the juniors and seniors, focusing more on college and career research, readiness for the next step and the college-application process."

He said that they all do personal counseling, which is a major part of their day. It's also, he said, an opportunity for us to build more effective and supportive relationships with students. 

"The rapport that we develop with the kids and how well we get to know them by the time we write their recommendations is unique here," said Salic, who is in his 18th year at NDPMA. "College reps often tell me that they can tell that we know our students well and can readily speak on their behalf, which is quite valuable in the application process at selective schools like the ones to which our students often apply."

Salic also believes the department's open-door policy makes it a more welcoming environment, which is well-appreciated by students and families. 

"We make them smile, encourage them to think differently and we strive to provide the most opportunities possible while helping them maintain a healthy perspective and healthy lifestyle," Salic said. "Oftentimes it feels like we impact student lives in a positive way just by challenging them to take risks to be their best — and in that way we sort of impact the world, too. And that’s a good feeling."

Numbers favor NDP students

Student-teacher ratios in the classroom garner a lot of attention when assessing educational opportunity and the potential for success for students. For many schools, especially public schools, the ratios usually are not good. It's a similar story in counseling departments in the state and nation. In fact, in Michigan, the ratio of counselors to students is 732 students for every one counselor — one of the highest in the nation, according to data from the American School Counselor Association, which recommends a ratio of 250:1. Nationally, the average ratio is 491:1. 

Fortunately, for NDP students, that ratio is much, much lower, although it doesn't mean it's always smooth sailing for both counselors and students. 

"Certainly we feel fortunate that we have a very supportive administration and a much lower student-to-counselor ratio that has allowed us to deliver student services with greater efficiency," Salic said. "More importantly, it has allowed us to develop greater empathy with what our students are experiencing and we're able to put more focus on each individual student and their needs."

But, Salic said, there are always challenges due to all of the societal and social changes taking place in recent years and how it affects the needs of each young man or woman. 

"Like with most other schools across the country, those needs have been amplified here at Notre Dame and have been increasing in recent years, particularly in the area of health and the overall well-being of students," Salic said. "Much is said across the media about student academic success and the amount of stress the kids are experiencing to meet everyone's expectations about getting admitted into the 'best' colleges."

Salic and his staff have implemented a number of initiatives to address this, including hosting several parent meetings where they try to educate parents on their own roles in their children's well-being. 

"We try to engage parents as a critical part of a team effort," he said. "Also, as our 'self-management program' continues to evolve, we will be addressing even more-so the mindfulness, health and well-being of our students. In addition, One Love Foundation, which was founded nationally in 2010 to ensure everyone understands the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, has been gaining traction across the nation and we are looking into ways to adopt some of their techniques."

Trying to make life easier for students — and teachers

Notre Dame's counseling group also implemented an electronic appointment request format for students to make it easier for them to sign up for appointments with counselors. They also have plans to take students on college tours in the spring, particularly those who would not have such an opportunity otherwise. 

"A recent uptick in opportunities to study internationally also has us looking into becoming a UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) center, which we'll use to assist students interested in British universities," Salic said. "And while our focus has always been on our students, we have not forgotten our teachers and the added stress they are feeling, so we are looking into ways to assist them as well."

So while no one could blame high school counselors if they get discouraged given the hard work and long hours, Salic said he believes his staff is doing very well, thank you, even with the new counselor credentialing requirements coming down from Lansing.

"It's a fine day when one can get up in the morning and look forward to going into work," he said. "I think I can speak for all our staff when I say we love what we do. Naturally, we have times throughout the year where we feel stressed and overwhelmed, but I don't think we feel overworked. After all, we're not pulling double shifts working in a coal mine!"

He said the rewards of seeing NDP students succeed far outweigh the amount of stress and gray hairs associated with the process. 

"In the 18 years I have been here, I have never had the same year twice," he said. "It's a constant process of fine-tuning, adding or improving programming to fit student needs and maximize opportunities for them. We have to be flexible. House Bill 4181 will just be another thing on our plate that will be implemented fairly easily. It's only just a few clouds in an otherwise big blue sky for us."


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org

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