Q&A with Ruth Rubin – College Guidance Counselor
Q. In your role as College Guidance Counselor, how do you support students through their four years of High School at Marburn.
A. The process weaves through a student’s entire High School journey – in classes (especially TASK and LEAD), in Advisory conversations, and explicitly as I meet with students and families.
Freshman year, we introduce the options – the doors – that are open and available to them. We start by talking about what transcripts and academic grade cards are when they enter high school. We use the metaphor of a four-legged stool – grades, activities, personal statement, and test scores – to talk about how the high school experience translates into different components that future employers or colleges might examine. We talk about graduation requirements and what they can plan on doing and experiencing to meet the requirements.
Once students settle into their Sophomore year, the more abstract and conceptual academic work really takes hold, and students work explicitly to manage executive function challenges. It’s the year when the planners shift from being school-only tools to helping them manage time outside of school as they look at their work more globally in terms of all of their responsibilities. Some students will take the PSAT in their Sophomore year; much of the graduation-requirement testing also falls in Sophomore year, so we spend time talking about and preparing for those tests.
By Junior year, the formal college search process launches. In LEAD classes, students take on the “My Journey” project, which includes research on everything from tuition and paying back loans to specific colleges and fields of study. We also spend time preparing for the PSAT and ACT. By the tail end of their Junior year, most students have a list of schools and careers they’re considering, and we spend a huge chunk of 4th quarter writing drafts for Common App Essays, which provide students an opportunity to tell colleges why they are unique and what matters to them. I meet with families at the end of their Junior year to develop a shared understanding of what the student and family see in the future.
In Senior year LEAD classes, students either complete the Common App or the Columbus State application. Then they turn their attention to ‘game of life’ stuff – insurance quotes, consumer protection, and financial responsibility. Other important life skills – how to iron and change a tire, how to set a table and eat at a formal dinner – are also part of their LEAD class. Finally, each student writes a graduation speech. I typically will meet at least once with students and families in the early fall, then schedule meetings as needed. We stage a meeting in March to discuss the transition plan, including the end of the IEP and development of a 504 plan.
Q. Do the majority of Marburn students go to a four-year college?
A. It varies from year to year. What’s kind of interesting is that we flip the two-year/four-year national statistics for students with learning differences. Only about 25% of students with learning differences in public schools attend four-year colleges. We are the reverse. I think that means students with learning differences in other schools get the message, explicitly or implied, that they belong at a two-year college at best. We teach students the skills to take on four-year colleges successfully.
Q. Are you also supporting students who may decide to do something other than a two-year or four-year college?
A. Yes. For example, one of our graduates last year had the skills and independence to go to school for make-up artistry in Florida. Several of our graduates have directly enlisted in the military or made the transition into the work force or gap-year programs.
Q. Are you working with students to prepare them for managing a versatile college schedule?
A. The Senior-year LEAD class spends time working on what a college schedule looks like and how managing time and assignments is different between high school and college. Six of our seniors are already in the college credit plus program, so they’ve experienced managing a fluctuating schedule. I have also met with students to help them map out their four-year college program of requirements and interests as high school seniors – knowing there will be changes – because having a plan in place is helpful for them.
Q. What is the biggest differentiator between what you’re doing and the kind of support a student would get in a public school?
A. I’m a wrap-around provider of services that they would have to cobble together from a variety of people in other schools. Because of Marburn’s smaller class sizes, I have a broad view of each student in the High School as they move through every year, from educational history to their interests and goals. I manage the state and national testing, provide transcripts and advice, and communicate with colleges. As I write the guidance counselor recommendations and advocate with college admissions representatives, future employers, or other program liaisons, I’m representing all of those pieces for each of our students. It gives students a more comprehensive, simplified approach to the question of next steps.
Q. How often are you meeting with students throughout their four years in High School?
A. The frequency increases as students get closer to graduation. I meet with Freshmen and Sophomores as a group multiple times both years. As they become Juniors, I teach LEAD classes so I’m with them a considerable amount of time. We cover a lot in class, but students will sometimes still schedule individual meetings with me. We spend a lot of time meeting one-on-one during a student’s Senior year. And of course, as any students or parents request a meeting, I am available!
Q. Self-advocacy is an attribute that is taught at Marburn at every grade level. How are you instilling that in students as they transition from Marburn?
A. In High School, we talk a lot about how asking for help outside of Marburn is no different than inside the school. College professors provide office hours if students need assistance, which we introduce in the High School as “academic appointments” during Advisory. It’s a skill we want students to transfer from their time here to their next setting.
Q. How are you helping students choose the path that feels right for them?
A. We know that in the course of a lifetime people change jobs and paths with increasing frequency. There’s a lot of pressure for students to indicate a major when they graduate High School and commit to a path. For some students, that path is right – but for certain students, it’s much more important to develop solid self-advocacy, self-management, communication, and critical thinking skills that will serve as a good foundation from which they can launch a change.
I never push a student toward a specific career or college, but I present opportunities – doors – that I feel might be a good fit for a student based on their personality, their affinity, and the skill work we do in class.
Q. In what ways are you supporting families through the college search and enrollment process?
A. I connect with parents and caregivers early on when students enter High School. The sooner parents and families join in the conversation about preparing for college or next steps, the more I can provide support. It’s important to have candid conversations with students and parents about goals and expectations. There’s a lot of paperwork involved when enrolling our students in college, and I work closely with parents to ensure documentation is correctly submitted.
Over the last couple years, I’ve offered an end-of-year meeting when parents of “new” Marburn graduates can meet with and ask questions of parents of “older” Marburn alumni. It’s been an enlightening experience to watch parents discuss everything from how their adult child will handle doing their own laundry and taking their medications to how to manage their own feelings when their child experiences success and independence.