A Lack of Counselors: Why Brentwood Needs More Guidance

Farah Alzafarani, Staff Writer

While a high school requires many different personnel to make processes run smoothly, there’s a chance we’re overlooking one of our most important resources: guidance counselors. 

School counselors strive to optimize student performance as well as foster a culture of success for all students. Guidance counselors also aid juniors and seniors in the college application process and in creating a plan for post-graduate life.  

“A school counselor is one of the most important people a high school student will interact with,” said Mark Rotella, a math teacher at the high school. 

The Sonderling Center Guidance Office is located in the Sonderling lobby across from the Attendance Office. (Farah Alzafarani)

However, the benefits guidance counselors can provide to our student body are diluted by the immense student population – just over 5,000 at the high school. There are simply not enough counselors to effectively support them all. 

“It is just a basic math problem to know that the higher a school counselor’s case load, the less time he or she has available to meet each student’s needs,” Rotella said. “There are just not enough hours in a school day.” 

“Most of the time, guidance counselors are with kids in crisis or students that are struggling academically. Sometimes there isn’t time to help out other students,” said Wayne Abenes, the coordinator of guidance at Brentwood High School.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that schools have one counselor for every 250 students. However, according to Abenes, “some guidance counselors have 300 to 400 students.”  

“I do not know my guidance counselor well,” said Stephanie Pena, a sophomore. “It takes a very long time to get in contact with them during the first few weeks of school which are crucial weeks.” 

Other high schools near Brentwood, such as Commack High School (Commack School District) and Half Hollow Hills High School West (Half Hollow Hills School District), have smaller student-to-counselor ratios that follow the ASCA guidelines. It is important to note that these school districts also have much smaller overall student populations. 

According to its district website, Commack High School, just north of Brentwood, has 20 guidance counselors to service a student population of 2,000; a ratio of one guidance counselor for every 100 students. Half Hollow Hills’ High School West, northwest of Brentwood, has 12 guidance counselors and a student population of approximately 1100 according to its district website, making its ratio one guidance counselor for every 91 students.  

This year, Brentwood High School employed four new guidance counselors, providing an additional two guidance counselors in both the Ross Center and Sonderling Center. It also established a Sonderling guidance counselor, Melissa Ferguson, as the official College Counselor. Students can visit Ferguson in the newly designed College Room, where they can receive specialized assistance with college applications and tutoring in the college essay.

Ruth Cosme-Taveras is a new guidance counselor in the Ross Center. (Farah Alzafarani)

However, more needs to be done to improve the access students have to their guidance counselors every day. The best way to do this is to hire more guidance personnel. This would make counselors more available by decreasing their case load. 

“The new counselors employed did not change the case load for each counselor to a great extent,” Abenes said. “Brentwood can do much more to improve our current condition.” 

To provide students with greater opportunities to receive the services only guidance counselors provide, it is crucial for the high school to take action to employ a greater number of guidance counselors. 

“The more [counselors] we have, the more students we can support on a regular basis,” Abenes said.