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Many Hawaii High School Counselors Are Taking The Summer Off As School Budgets Run Short

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Many Hawaii High School Counselors Are Taking The Summer Off As School Budgets Run Short

Jun 13, 2024 | 7:26 am ET
By Megan Tagami/Civil Beat
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Roosevelt High School employs two college and career counselors during the summer, who support current students as well as recent graduates. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015)
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Roosevelt High School employs two college and career counselors during the summer, who support current students as well as recent graduates. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015)

Entering her senior year, Siena Ebert thought she was prepared for college. The Campbell High School student earned good grades, played sports but never sought one-on-one advising on the college application process.

While Ebert was accepted at six colleges, she graduated in May 2022 without committing to a school. Then she realized she needed scholarships and financial aid.

Fortunately for her, Campbell’s counselor offered summer advising on Ebert’s next steps. She ultimately decided to enroll at the University of Hawaii West Oahu to save money.

“You get out of high school and you have no idea what you’re supposed to do,” Ebert said. 

Counselors say summer is a critical time for high-schoolers and recent graduates to prepare for their futures. When school is out, students have more time to research colleges and consider future career paths, and counselors can provide them with more individualized support and guidance.

But for some students, access to college and career counseling ends once summer break begins. Others don’t know how to use the summer counseling services available to them, and educational advocates say high schools need to offer more year-round support.

Not all campuses have the budget to offer year-round counseling services, and roughly half of high schools in the Hawaii Department of Education offer summer college and career counseling. Most DOE counselors only work for 10 months at a time, said Lynsey Bow, counseling and advising program director at Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education, a public program that collects data and supports student achievement from early childhood to higher education.

Even at schools that offer summer counseling, principals and counselors say it can be difficult to reach all students, especially those who are the first in their families to attend college. While first-generation students can benefit from year-round counseling, they may not think to get a head start on their college applications or meet with their counselors during the summer, Bow said. 

“The structure hasn’t really been there to offer the services for students and families,” Bow said. 

Roughly half of Hawaii’s high school graduates in the class of 2023 enrolled in college. Last fall, about 32% of students entering the UH system said they were the first in their families to attend college. 

Targeting First-Generation Students

Before the school year ended, Dayna Kaneshiro and Becky Himuro told Roosevelt High School’s junior class to seek college and career counseling over the summer. Both counselors work during the summer to meet with students and begin writing letters of recommendation for college.

Only a few rising seniors have reached out so far, Kaneshiro said, but she’s hoping more will meet with her and Himuro next month. 

Students who already plan on attending college have no problem communicating with their counselors during the summer, said Roosevelt Principal Sean Wong. But he would like to reach more first-generation students who may not know they can use the summer to prepare for college and/or the job application process.

“For those students, it’s more of a wait-and-see approach,” Wong said.

Many Hawaii students receive their high school diplomas without knowing their next steps, Bow said. Counselors are often overwhelmed by their responsibilities and caseloads during the school year and don’t have time to develop college and career plans with every student, she added. 

Summer counseling can be especially important for first-generation students who may not consider college as an option, said Stephen Schatz, executive director of Hawaii P-20. By meeting with counselors during the summer, he said, students can identify opportunities at local UH campuses that may require some preparation during their final years of high school. 

State representatives passed a resolution this year asking the DOE and the Board of Education to develop a plan to provide all public high schools with year-round counselors. The department has also committed to advocating for more money for summer counseling services in the coming years.

“The demand for high-quality and equitable counseling and advising services to prepare students for life after secondary school has been a historical challenge to address,” said David Sun-Miyashiro, director of HawaiiKidsCAN, in written testimony supporting the House resolution. 

Some counselors have ramped up their outreach to ensure that summer services are reaching students who may need it the most. 

At Radford High School, college and career counselor Malia Kau said she’s hoping to reach more first-generation students through a three-day college workshop she’s piloting this summer. Sessions for rising seniors will cover college research, personal statements and financial aid. 

So far, 15 students have signed up for the workshop, and about half are first-generation. 

“I think it’s a good start for this year,” Kau said. 

Finding Other Ways To Reach Students

For students of schools that don’t provide summer counseling services, Hawaii P-20 is working to expand access to its Summer Advising Program. In its fifth year, the program has over 1,000 participants. 

Through the program, recent graduates can receive individualized support in preparing for college, searching for jobs, enrolling in the military and exploring other post-graduation options. The initiative has seen early success, with 60% to 70% of low-income participants enrolling in college the fall after their high school graduation. Their peers who did not participate in the program had an enrollment rate of 30% to 40%.

Eleyne Fia, a college and career counselor at Campbell High School, said she’s advised recent graduates through the Summer Advising Program for three years. Through the program, she’s able to send text messages to students, providing them with important reminders about enrolling for fall classes or applying for financial aid. 

“They’re really flourishing,” Fia said, adding that she’s been able to reach students who never sought counseling while they were at Campbell. 

Through the program, Matthew Kelekolio-Sumpter said he found a sense of community and inspiration as he connected with UH students and learned more about college life. The 2023 Campbell graduate said he always wanted to attend UH West Oahu, but struggled to find the confidence to enroll after graduation. 

“Being in that program really helped me out and gave me a better understanding of what it’s going to be like in college,” said Kelekolio-Sumpter, who recently finished his freshman year at UH West Oahu. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would even be in college right now.” 

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.