The Sequester Effect: Counseling services in jeopardy for students most in need


by Colleen Flaherty/Photo: Aloha High School in Washington County, Oregon

Lauren Randolph, a counselor at Aloha High School in Washington County, Ore., just ten miles west of Portland, remembers how exciting it was when their football team, the Warriors, won the state championship.

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“The students really felt a sense of accomplishment and community,” said Randolph. “You have to celebrate the successes, especially for students like mine.”

The recession hit families in her community hard. Among her students, 60 percent qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Even though it was ranked the third best high school in Oregon by Newsweek in 2010, it’s currently the poorest school in the county.

“Our school unfortunately was hit harder than other high schools that have been hit. These students are really fending for themselves,” said Randolph.

Randolph, Lauren, COUNSELOR_HIGH
Lauren Randolph, Oregon high school counselor

Unfortunately for schools like Aloha, their resources will be further limited this fall. Federal lawmakers failed to prevent the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts that went into effect on March 1, cutting a total of $3 billion in federal funding from education. These cuts are especially devastating to high-need schools with children from low-income families who rely on federal funding programs like Title I, which will be cut in Oregon by more than $7.5 million.

Randolph said budget cuts have already made an impact in her state where programs for needy families have been reduced or done away with altogether. For many of her students, the public school is the last place offering many needed services.

“We’re the ones helping these families,” said Randolph. “These kids have the highest mental health needs as do their parents. Cuts would mean they wouldn’t receive the already limited assistance.”

Like many guidance counselors, Randolph provides college and career counseling, but often times she needs to make sure students are getting their basic needs met.

“When I see a student struggling, the first things I need to ask are, who are you living with? Do you have access to medical services? Do you need school supplies? Do you need clothes? Then I work with the right community services to make sure they get the things they need.”

She has gone above and beyond to help homeless students. She and her husband have opened their home to these youth, and they’ve encouraged community members to do the same.

“We help these kids establish rental history. Their rent is paid by going to school and helping around the house.”

Despite the struggles of the last few years, Randolph said she still finds real satisfaction in her job.

“To see these kids graduate and go on to other opportunities is so rewarding. There was somebody there to help them, to give them a hand and to help them be self-reliant,” said Randolph. “Just the other day, I saw a kid post on Facebook he had his financial aid and registered for classes. What more could you ask for?”

Unfortunately, budget cuts could mean that services like hers may not be properly funded or staffed in the future.

“With staffing the way it’s going, we can’t survive. Our staff is burned out by Thanksgiving. I’ve never seen them like this,” said Randolph, who is personally responsible for counseling over 440 students.

We’ve spent so much time in crisis in the last couple years, and there are more students with mental health problems than ever before. Their parents just don’t have the resources. They’re barely making it.

Randolph said there may be a disconnect between legislators and the families they represent. When it comes to adequate education funding, lawmakers need to know how cuts hurt the neediest.

“If you’ve never been poor or hungry, you don’t get it. You have to live it or live it by living alongside these kids,” said Randolph. “I once had a kid tell me that her favorite day of the month was when her mom got food stamps.”

She has a strong message for Congress: “Fund education. You need to ensure that these kids don’t suffer because you can’t come together and make a budget work for students. They are our future.”

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