Counsellor’s Corner: High school readiness?  Working with our elementary school students

As guidance counsellors, we do exceptional work taking care of our students.  After all, this is our calling. In addition to the mental health and academic support and resources we provide students and their families, we also focus on specific goals with each grade.

In Grade 9, we work with our newest students to ensure that they are in the correct courses. We also try to see that they are making friends, adjusting to high school, joining clubs/teams, and honing their study skills while balancing all that high school has to offer. 

In Grades 10 and 11, our focus shifts to post-secondary pathway planning.  In our Grade 10 Careers classes, the Guidance Department brings in several guest speakers from various industries, exposing our students to many careers and opportunities available.  Our Grade 10 students also use an educational platform, myBlueprint (a comprehensive educational and career planning tool) whereby students can create resumes, cover letters, and research post-secondary programs. 

Pathway planning continues in Grade 11 where Guidance hosts skilled trades, college and university presentations and fairs that run during the school day and in the evening.  Parents are welcomed and encouraged to attend and participate in their children’s journey. 

In Grade 12, we focus on post-secondary applications, program requirements, scholarships and financial aid, supplementary requirements, graduation requirements, ensuring students have everything they need to earn their high school diploma while assisting them in their post-secondary transition.  It all goes by so quickly—maybe too quickly.  Every year at our opening assembly, I am called to the stage to say a few words on behalf of the Guidance Department.  And every year, when I get up on that stage to welcome Grade 9 students, I tell them how quickly the next four years will fly by….and it’s true.

But there is yet another group of students that guidance counsellors work quite closely with:  that is our Grade 8 elementary students.  As high school guidance counsellors, our work doesn’t begin and end with high school.

Beginning when our elementary students are in Grade 7 (and often even in Grades 5 and 6), the local high schools in my school board target and invite them to concerts, dramatic productions, and sporting events.  This is all by design.  Guidance teams do this to begin building relationships with our younger students and their families. Some of these students may have older siblings who have already attended our high school.  Yet, others may be first-born, new to the community and/or new to the country, and this may be their introduction to the local high school and everything it has to offer.  We want these young learners to be excited about high school, feel comfortable walking through our halls, interacting with our students and staff.  High school guidance counsellors work closely with our elementary school counterparts to build this relationship and assist in the Grade 8 to 9 transition experience.  Our elementary guidance counsellors work with multiple elementary schools across our school board.  They run programming for students, assist with course selection, and liaise between the elementary and secondary schools on a wide array of issues, including special education resources, technology and speciality programming, mental health and social supports.

In their final year of elementary school, our Student Success Teacher along with our Guidance team invite Grade 8s from our local feeder schools to our school in the fall, to participate in “Grade 9 For a Day”, wherein we set up a schedule for them to follow. Grade 8s visit Grade 9 classes, partake in Grade 9 lessons, visit with Grade 9 students, have lunch in our cafeteria, and listen to presentations about high school.  You can feel the energy shift in the building when the Grade 8s visit that day; the excitement, the giggles, the fear.  It all blends into a day that they can’t wait to share with their families when they get home.

A couple of months later, our guidance counsellors will then visit our Grade 8s at their school and walk them through Grade 9 course selection.  We do this with the help of our elementary guidance counsellors and Grade 8 teachers. In the spring, we invite the Grade 8 teachers (by feeder school) for a transition meeting whereby they share information with us that will help make the Grade 8 student transition smoother.  Finally, in August, just before the start of the school year, this same group of students are invited to a “Get Ready” three-day program to help them in making friends, learn how to use their locker, and how to follow their high school timetable.

In my school board, we do tremendous work assisting our elementary students, so they experience a smooth and exciting transition to high school.  As with most things in Guidance, this is a team effort.  We are all significant players being led by the Grade 8 students themselves.  As team captain, we try our best to follow their lead and guide them along their path, ensuring their voice is heard and honoured.  High school can be a daunting place for our youngest students.  We hope that our attempts at transitioning our Grade 8s to Grade 9 provide these students with tools they will need and use to have the best high school experience.

By: Anna Macri