Distributed Counseling: “It Takes a Village” Approach

By Abner Oakes

ISA's Director of Outreach


distributed counseling - advisoryAdolescents learn best in close-knit, nurturing environments where no student can fall through the cracks and where they develop “relational trust” with adults and other students in the building (Bryk and Schneider 2002). Yet in traditional high schools, social and emotional support is relegated to counselors, who often have several hundred students in their caseloads and barely have time to support all students.

Fundamental to ISA’s high school reform approach is to create small size schools or small learning communities (SLCs) to reduce the faculty/counselor to student ratio in order to personalize students’ school experience. In particular, these small size schools and SLCs have several benefits for students:

  • They allow for close student-teacher relationships, where all students have an adult advocate who knows them and their family well, leading to social, emotional, and psychological enhancements for students (Cotton, 1996).
  • Students at smaller high schools show more positive attitudes about being in school, as well as fewer signs of alienation than do students in larger schools (Cotton, 1996).
  • Small schools report proportionally fewer disciplinary problems and incidences of violence (Wasley et al., 2000).
  • Students in small schools are more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities and to hold important positions in school groups than are similar students at large high schools (Cotton, 1996).
  • Students in small schools report a greater sense of belonging, leading to more positive social behaviors (Center for Collaborative Education, 2004).

In ISA’s Distributed CounselingTM approach, a grade level team of teachers and counselor share a cohort of students and take responsibility for their academic, social and emotional development and achievement. The team shares information and observations about students’ performance, behaviors, and issues to create a comprehensive approach to the whole student. The team then develops customized interventions to ensure students’ needs are being addressed academically, socially, and emotionally.

It is this personalized approach along with a culture that encourages students to go to college that keeps students coming to school each day and achieving their goals.