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School Counselors Welcome Attention From First Lady; Summit Plans Finalized

The Harvard Graduate School of Education will be the site of a summit on July 28 to discuss school counseling as a strategy to increase college access, as promoted by first lady Michelle Obama in a speech last week.

Mrs. Obama announced plans for the event, co-hosted by Harvard and the White House, in remarks to the American School Counselor Association on July 2 in Florida and details have emerged this week

About 150 invitations have been sent to leaders from higher education, K-12, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and foundations for the convening in Cambridge, Mass., said Harvard's Mandy Savitz-Romer, the lead organizer of the event. 

"We are trying to mobilize people to make new investments in the school counseling area," she said in a phone interview. "We want to show people there is an appetite and we are not starting from nothing."

The summit will include both panels and breakout sessions so best practices can be shared and new strategies can be generated, said Savitz-Romer, a professor and the director of the Prevention Science and Practice program at HGSE.

"The hope is that our event will inspire some ideas, not just present what's out there now and tell people to scale it," she said. "We want people to think about how to expand their work, deepen it, or take on new things."

Topics will include professional development for school counselors (preservice and inservice), how disticts can work in partnerships with community programs and businesses, and technology (data portals, apps, etc.) that can be used efficiently to support college advising and access, said Savitz-Romer.

The July summit will be the extension of a conversation in May among a small group of counseling experts called to the White House to share their ideas with senior staff interested in leveraging their work to expand college access, she said. School counseling programs need to be strengthened, less fragmented, and work in partnership with the college access community for a more equitable system to serve, said Savitz-Romer.

Mrs. Obama emphasized the need for schools to invest in more counselors in her speech. She announced June 30 that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to state chiefs asking for more resources to be directed to high school counselors. (See Politics K-12 blog for details.)

ASCA has been pushing for a decade for such communication to explain how federal money could be used in budgets for school counselors, said Amanda Fitzgerald, the director of public policy for the ASCA. "We couldn't have crafted a better speech for her. It was in line with what we have said for a long time," she said. "We are really excited....to see that link and how counselors hold an important part of the puzzle, we hope it will spark some reaction."

Mrs. Obama also unveiled new plans to honor the School Counselor of the Year at the White House, just as the national Teacher of the Year is recognized there annually.

The July 28 summit is being planned in collaboration with the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, the American School Counselor Association, and the National College Access Network.

Savitz-Romer said a paper will be generated from the summit to share  ideas with the public and she hopes it will be the first of many events on this issue.

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