Addressing Needs and Barriers of At-Risk Elementary Students

by Rebecca A. Newgent, Sang Min Lee, and Ashley F. Daniel

Career Counseling Strategies for School Counselors: Addressing Needs and Barriers of At-Risk Elementary Students

If school counseling programs fail to adequately support students, especially at-risk elementary students, the result could be social, emotional, and academic/career distress. At-risk elementary students face many of the same needs and barriers as older students but they are not usually addressed. At-risk students often need extra educational resources, development of core skills, and encouragement to facilitate academic interest. Barriers, such as SES, the cycle of failure, bias, overworked counselors, stereotypes, and problems at home or with peers may also impede these students. Early identification and intervention of needs and barriers related to career development may assist in promoting a successful future.

Career preparation begins in elementary school and continues through the school years and beyond (Schmidt, 2003). Elementary students are obtaining new awareness of themselves while they interact with others. Therefore, students need to systematically receive information about workers in the community and begin to connect education and work. The role of the school counselor is to help the students learn that good work habits and personal responsibility are expected of them and their decisions have consequences (Wittmer, Thompson, & Loesch, 1997). Participation in career development programs from Kindergarten reduces the potential for at-risk students to drop out (Brown, 1998).

Strategies for School Counselors

The ASCA National Model (2003) encourages school counselors to assist all students in three important career development goals: the acquisition of skills necessary for the world of work, the ability to make informed career decisions, and the employment of successful strategies to achieve career satisfaction. The following are strategies related to career counseling that school counselors may use to assist in meeting needs and reducing barriers to at-risk elementary students:

  1. Encourage family collaboration. Develop a comprehensive program promoting career discussion that involves both family- and school-based interventions that engage all students and families, especially those most at-risk. According to Bemak and Cornely (2002) facilitating family-school partnerships can lead to academic and career success for students. Engage the parents by promoting discussions of career options.
  2. Help students define their goals (interests, abilities) with identifiable and measurable steps. According to Zeedyk, Gallacher, Henderson, Husband, and Lindsay (2003) identifying children's individual abilities reduces helplessness in regard to primary to secondary school children.
  3. Utilize all resources, even untraditional ones such as grandparents, churches, etc. Extended support networks can provide support and encouragement to young students.
  4. Be mindful of value and SES-related differences. According to Faro (2001), "children from low-income, multi-ethnic neighborhoods generally do far more poorly, academically, than their middleclass counterparts" (p. 689).
  5. Use technology. Students enjoy learning about themselves. Using some career interest inventories designed for elementary students such as those available from http://www.careercc.com/links/search.cgi?query=Elementary will start the process of identifying potential career areas.
  6. Increase self-esteem. The higher the self-esteem of a student the more likely they will be open to opportunities; not eliminating as many options. Help at-risk students experience the reinforcing power of success.
  7. Promote a positive school climate. Target students who feel isolated or discriminated against. According to Fusick and Bordeau (2004) social and economic factors and racism result in barriers caused by negative stereotyping within counseling services, schools, and communities. Help develop team work and social interaction through cooperative learning.
  8. Many at-risk students do not have opportunities for reading or access to books outside of school. Encourage students and families to read at home as well as recommend books that include success stories of people from various backgrounds.
  9. Provide hope for a positive future and success. Invite role models/mentors for a career day. At-risk students are often not exposed to information and people in a wide variety of careers. Bringing in role models/mentors to talk about options and explain how they reduced the barriers they faced. This may assist students to keep options open and even expand options with the new information. Encourage at-risk students to see school as a foundation for the future rather than an end.

Career development begins at an early age. Elementary school is not too soon to start the process. Students at this age are already in the process of circumscription and compromise. They are eliminating career choices based on gender roles as well as level of prestige. School counselors can be most useful when they help young students, especially those who are at-risk, to keep options open.

Rebecca A. Newgent, Ph.D., L.P.C., NCC, is the Program Coordinator for the Counselor Education Program at the University of Arkansas. She can be reached at: rnewgent@uark.edu
Sang Min Lee, Ph.D. NCC, is the coordinator of the School Counseling specialization at the University of Arkansas. He can be reached at: smlee@uark.edu .
Ashley F. Daniel, is a graduate research assistant for the National Office for Research on Measurement and Evaluation Systems at the University of Arkansas. She can be reached at: afturne@uark.edu

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