It was March 12, 2020. The San Diego WACAC Share, Learn, and Connect conference was underway. I remember it vividly. It was a rainy Thursday morning, but I was enjoying the beautiful campus of Point Loma Nazarene University and time with colleagues from other high schools.
Little did I know that the next day, the world would become a much different place.
It’s interesting to compare last year’s SLC with this year’s event. I had the pleasure of participating in the first of two parts of the 2021 virtual WACAC SLC conference on February 17th. It was incredibly well done. Kudos to all those involved in its planning. It was well-organized, easy to navigate, and true to its name, structured to allow us to share, learn, and connect with others in our profession. Utilizing Slack was a great way to carry on conversations about the sessions or simply say hello to one another. I am looking forward to the second half on March 10.
What strikes me as I compare the two SLC’s, almost a year apart, is how similar the session topics are. Mental health remains at the forefront and is a topic that was discussed in each opening session. Racism, serving students of color, financial aid/WUE, and updates from various college systems are also common to both years’ events.
In 2020, Dr. Kim Bogan, PLNU Student Services, delivered the opening session. Her topic, “Understanding the Demand for Mental Health Services on College Campuses: Recommendations for preparing our students to transition from high school into college life,” was sobering. She shared how the demand for mental health services on college campuses had outpaced the percentile change in enrollment on college campuses. Substance abuse, social media, and intensified expectations, were among some of the causes. She encouraged high school counselors to help students develop resiliency and good habits in their high school years to assist them with the transition to college. I’m sure she had no idea that morning that Covid would unleash a whole host of new mental health challenges.
This year, David Hawkins, Chief Education and Policy Officer for NACAC, delivered the opening session. He encouraged us to tell our stories and share all we do to serve students. Sadly, many are unaware of the support we provide our students. Revolution Prep’s CEO, Matt Kirchner, followed by sharing how he and his colleagues vow to always do what’s in the student’s best interest.
Serving students of color continues to be a session topic. In 2020, I attended a session titled, “It’s Important. Your Non-White Students of Color Need Campus Communities of Care.” Susan Toler Carr, Director of College & Career Counseling, of the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation, addressed how students of color often feel overwhelmed and don’t seek help. She provided tools and resources for counselors to support students of color and shared how various cultures’ priorities can drive college decisions.
This year, I attended the session titled, Decoding Racism in Conversations About the College List. The presenters provided four different scenarios and unpacked their implications. The scenario, “My sister did everything right and she didn’t get in because she’s the wrong skin color” was discussed. Presenters identified this statement as a microaggression and encouraged school counselors to redirect students to understand that admission decisions are about each student as an individual, not a group.
One session I am eager to hear on Wednesday is titled, “To Submit Test Scores or Not: How Admissions Has Been Affected by the Pandemic and College Decisions Post Pandemic.” I hope to provide some clarity over testing to the Class of 2022 that wasn’t available to the Class of 2021.
In March 2020, I also really enjoyed: “WUE: We Understand and Explain” and “Jesui-What? An Overview of the 27 Colleges and Universities that Make Up the Jesuit Network.” The WUE session is taking place again this year. I’m sure there will be updates as Covid has created greater financial need amongst students. In February, I attended a fabulous session titled, “Naviance Alternatives: College Counseling Alternatives Roundtable.” I couldn’t make it to the session on how Covid has changed the college admissions process, but I will listen to its recording when it is available. Also, shout out to the organizers of the College Trivia Kahoots game. That was SO much fun! I thought it was a great stand-in for the traditional college fair I attended at the SLC in 2020. Attendance was sparse at last year’s college fair as counselors were beginning to hear that their campuses would be closing the next day. Many had left to manage the situation at their schools.
So, what are my conclusions? What is the most significant difference between last year’s SLC and this years’ SLC? While mental health, college affordability, racism, and equity are part of both WACAC SLC conferences, these issues have been greatly magnified by Covid-19. Tragically, there were two teen suicides in North San Diego County this past week as reported on the popular neighborhood app, NextDoor. Issues facing BIPOC students have not gone away because of Covid. Racism has been called out front and center. As school counselors, we must keep talking about these topics, sharing ideas, and learning from each other no matter what the circumstances. When we can connect over our everyday struggles and goals to provide hope to our students, we are truly at our best. I hope to share, learn, and connect with you for many years to come.