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2024 School Counselor of the Year Talks Improving Postsecondary Readiness

In celebration of National School Counseling Week, Feb. 5-9, 2024 School Counselor of the Year Dr. Diana Virgil shared her insights with ACT on the importance of readiness and advocacy for education opportunities for all through a two-part blog series. Dr. Virgil is a school counselor for 346 students at Daleville High School in Alabama. She also serves as the coordinator for ACT’s American College Application Campaign in Daleville. ACT congratulates Dr. Virgil and celebrates all school counselors for everything they do to help each student discover and fulfill their potential.

In recent ACT research, high school seniors reported high levels of academic, social, and personal preparation for college, despite wishing they had received more support to better prepare for certain aspects of college. As a counselor to students in grades 9-12, what are your best strategies for helping students understand and enhance their readiness for life after high school?

Preparing students for life after high school involves several essential steps. Before determining whether a student intends to enter the workforce, pursue a two- or four-year college degree, or enlist in the military, I prioritize individualized planning. Recognizing that each student's journey is unique, I believe in tailoring plans to their academic strengths, interests, and career aspirations. Encouraging students to follow their passions and ambitions forms the cornerstone of this process.

Following the initial planning stage, I offer comprehensive academic support to help students achieve their goals. This support includes connecting them with tutoring services, collaborating with our local community college for ACT prep courses, and providing various other resources aimed at improving grades and standardized test scores. Furthermore, I work closely with our career coach to organize college and industry tours, administer career assessments, and explore colleges, majors, and career paths. Through these opportunities, students gain valuable insights into potential education and professional avenues.

Emotional support is also a critical component of my approach. This involves fostering life skills development, engaging parents and families in the planning process, and maintaining consistent follow-up with students. By addressing their emotional needs and providing a supportive environment, as a team, we empower students to navigate the challenges of transitioning from high school to the next phase of their lives with confidence and resilience.

You collaborated with a local community college to expand opportunities at your school for dual enrollment, giving students exposure to college-level work in a supportive environment while saving them time and money. What advice do you have for other counselors and educators who are advocating for similar programs?

If you're not currently involved in dual enrollment, take steps to get involved. Initiate a conversation with your coordinator, or if there isn't one, reach out to the nearest local community or four-year college. Inquire about potential funding opportunities from workforce development or CTE programs that could help cover costs for students. Additionally, check if teachers with master's degrees in their field can teach dual enrollment courses at your high school in collaboration with the community college.

Note that approval from your central office staff or superintendent is essential for this partnership to commence. Therefore, start by discussing the idea during your team leadership meeting, and then progress up the chain to facilitate the process.

This blog post is part of a two-part series. Read part one here.

Dr. Diana Virgil is a school counselor at Daleville High School in Alabama. She is recognized as an ASCA-Certified School Counselor, National Board-Certified Counselor, National Certified School Counselor, and has held a school counselor certification in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.