How a Black Student Achievement counselor is closing opportunity gaps

'Her mere presence has had an impact on grades, attitudes and discipline,' Principal Robert Motley says.

Principal Robert Motley calls Atholton High School’s Black Student Achievement liaison a “godsend position.” Every high school in Maryland’s Howard County Public School System has, like Atholton, a Black Student Achievement liaison whose sole responsibility is to monitor the performance of African American students.

The liaisons don’t only work with students. They also advise teachers and collaborate with families on various initiatives, such as increasing the number of Black students in AP, honors and other advanced courses. “Her mere presence has had an impact on grades, attitudes and discipline,” says Motley. “It has made a huge difference.”

Every year, Motley holds an assembly to introduce Black and multiracial students to the Black Student Achievement liaison and the help she offers. Students can reach out to the liaison—by scanning a QR code—while others may be referred by teachers or administrators for assistance. The liaison is able to connect with students because she has no role in grading and discipline, though she does visit classrooms to work with students whom teachers have identified as needing interventions, Motley explains.

The liaison also works with teachers on issues of cultural competency and how to get results with specific students. Motley’s school has just qualified for a Hispanic achievement liaison based on its growing population of LatinX students.

The liaison also fills another gap: The school does not have any African American counselors. “Historically, if we look at achievement gaps, that’s the basis for these programs,” Motley says. “It’s what are we doing for students apart from everything that hasn’t worked for these groups.”

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The Black Student Achievement liaison was highlighted on a list of advisory time and intervention innovations in the “Leading Forward” report by former longtime principal and National Association of Secondary School Principals president Gregg Wieczorek, who recently visited schools in every state looking for low-cost initiatives to overcome the common challenges faced by K-12 educators. Here are some other advisory and intervention programs that stood out:

  • Highs and Lows: LaCrosse Polytechnic School, LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Students start each day with a 45-minute advisory. On Mondays and Fridays, students discuss their personal highlights or lowlights of the weekend or week. This teaches students to better communicate their feelings and listen to their classmates.
  • No Missing Assignments: Buchanan High School, Buchanan, Michigan. To help students with time management and organizational skills, the principal created a database that tells everyone who was absent each week. Those students receive an email giving them until the end of the day on Monday to complete all missing work. Students who don’t complete their homework report to a learning center during lunch so they can finish their work.
  • Graduation Coaches: John Adams High School, South Bend, Indiana. Each fall, counselors identify seniors at risk of not graduating. Those students fill out a form on which they indicate three staff members to whom they feel connected. They then have weekly meetings with one of those staff members, who monitor attendance and academic progress to get the students on track to graduate.
  • Learning Style Advisory: Luton High School, Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. During their advisory time, students take assessments that help them understand their personality traits as well as their strengths and weaknesses as learners. In turn, that understanding helps them complete class assignments.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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