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High School Guidance Counselor Discusses Education Reform, Modernizing Students' Learning Pathways

A high school senior completing classes remotely. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
A high school senior completing classes remotely. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

When schools shut down a year ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19, guidance counselor Ger Vue says the pandemic forced students and educators to adapt to a period of “crisis learning.”

Many educators, parents and students struggled to adjust from in-classroom learning to an online, distanced model, he says. Data from McKinsey & Co. shows students fell behind in subjects such as math and that the pandemic is widening racial learning disparities.

As a guidance counselor at Roseville Area High School in Roseville, Minnesota, Vue says he’s also seeing an increase in mental health concerns such as depression.

“Schools have … fundamentally been about relationships,” he says. “And when you take that element out and there’s not that component in there anymore, the rise of mental health challenges, the rise of overall well-being [challenges] takes a toll.”

Roseville Area Schools serve both urban and suburban students, in a district with about 60% students of color. Remote learning has worked well for some students and the district hopes to incorporate it into the curriculum as an alternative, Vue says.

The pandemic has also put innovation at the forefront of education. Teachers have needed to get creative in designing a curriculum that supports students’ changing environments and needs, he says.

“I’m hopeful that we can kind of bring forth all the creativity and meet the students where they are,” he says, “as well as provide the opportunities for them to be the lifelong learners and productive citizens of tomorrow.”

The fact that some students struggled with distanced learning while others thrived speaks to the need to rethink the traditional, one-size-fits-all style of education. Vue says he’s hopeful the pandemic will serve as “the golden opportunity” to reform education and create a more student-friendly, flexible curriculum.

The traditional four-year high school model limits many hands-on students, he says. He believes education can adapt to meet the needs of students facing different situations and experiences.

High school senior Zoe Costanza from Syracuse, New York, wrote to Here & Now saying she’s been waitlisted at four colleges. She’s seeking guidance on if she has a chance of getting into these selective schools and advice on whether she should take a gap year before attending college.

Vue says to stay positive and remain hopeful about the waitlists. “Don’t let that indecision hold you back or consume you. And start thinking of alternatives, too,” he says.

High school students are missing out on a multitude of experiences during the pandemic. Cady Russell, a student at Dripping Springs High School in Dripping Springs, Texas, told Here & Now she missed out on every pep rally, dance and senior year event that she looked forward to.

With everyone in the same boat, Vue says students should focus on the things they’ve learned through remote school, such as self-awareness and self-advocacy, that will help them in college.

“Don’t think of what you’ve missed out but think of the skills that you have learned,” he says. “Although this chapter has been somewhat dark, look at what you’ve obtained and move forward with positivity.”

Students are resilient and can adapt to whatever comes their way — something that Vue thinks forward-thinking, optimistic young minds often don’t get enough credit for.

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.