Collaborative Initiatives Between Counselor Preparation Programs and Disadvantaged Schools For Early Career Development

By Kathleen Marie Barrett

Professional counseling associations, from the National Career Development Association (NCDA) to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA), recommend career-related learning and Photo By Element5 Digital On Unsplashactivities be provided to youngsters (ASCA, 2019; NCDA, 2011). The elementary school years offer significant opportunities to establish the solid foundations upon which later occupational choices can be built. At a time when children are busy taking in information about the world around them, and developing their future selves, counselors have unparalleled opportunities to promote healthy development by addressing and countering the powerfully limiting gender, racial and cultural stereotypes that pervade our social world (Broems & Jackson, 2020).

During elementary school, most children begin to narrow their range of perceived future possibilities (Gottfredson, 1981), and insidious social biases close doors and cut off the opportunities hidden behind them. This reality is brought to life in a compelling two-minute video created for the UK-based charity Education and Employers (2016). In the film children are invited to make drawings of people in three different careers: firefighter, fighter pilot, and surgeon. When real-world representatives of each career step into the classroom the children are clearly shocked, because all of these professionals are women. The surprise registered on their faces brings home the reality of social bias. At the same time, the voice over notes that of the sixty-six drawings created, fully sixty-one depicted men. Broems and Jackson (2020), in their chapter “Antibias career development for evolving identities in elementary school children” issue a call to respond early, and to actively combat stereotyped assumptions.

Elementary school counselors are dramatically underrepresented in the present educational landscape (Curry & Milsom, 2017). Although providing career development services is central to the school counseling role, these activities can be lost in the mix as overburdened counselors focus on immediate, visible, and urgent behavioral and social emotional needs of elementary children. In disadvantaged schools, where so many students bring trauma histories to school with them, the problem is worse. Putting out fires takes precedence to helping children develop and expand a sense of their future occupational possibilities. For children at risk, the need for early career development is deceptively urgent (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001). With few career role models and limited exposure to a range of future occupational possibilities (Gomez & Beecham, 2019) both social and economic factors block young disadvantaged children from the services they need to imagine a hopeful future.

Calling on University Counselor Preparation Programs to Become Part of the Solution

Discovering Untapped Resources

Collaborative initiatives between counselor preparation programs and impoverished schools can be used to fill current gaps in the delivery of essential early career development to disadvantaged children. At the same time, graduate students gain incomparable opportunities to learn, and importantly, be richer as counselors, in understanding the developmental nature of early career development.

There are many opportunities to integrate early career development initiatives via personal or virtual contact into the existing graduate counseling curriculum, such as folding into existing internship expectations. As collaborative relationships develop and blossom, the needs of these youngest students inform and drive type of intervention that will best fit. The possibilities presented below offer an initial preview of successful ways in which a counselor education program and its counseling graduate students are able to both provide something incredibly useful to disadvantaged children, and gain enormously from the experience of doing so.

Ideas and Initiatives for Collaborative Interventions

  • Planning and implementing an engaging and informative Career Exploration Day as part of an assignment in a Career Development class. Children can be involved in the planning of their Career Exploration Day, promoting excitement and feelings of ownership.
  • Delivering developmentally appropriate career development classroom lessons for Principles of School Counseling class. ASCA's Mindsets and Behaviors Standards for College and Career Readiness (2014) can be brought to life in developmentally appropriate classroom lessons, with plentiful free resources. A lesson for the elementary student might include what it means to have a positive attitude, or growth mindsets that promotes perseverance- critical messages for at-risk and underserved children. Classroom lessons that challenge limiting occupational stereotypes offer messages of a future less constrained by bias.
  • Video-based connections with real people in real jobs. For children of color, for children whose gender identity differs from the mainstream, for children of poverty and of disadvantage, these person-to-person communications are especially valuable when career models resemble the school's child population.
  • Offering teachers strategies for integrating career development into academic subjects is a tool to help children make important connections between what they are learning in their classrooms, and their future. Counseling students might work with a math teacher to discuss how math lessons connect to proportions in a recipe, then visit the cafeteria kitchen to watch cookie magic happen.

A Unique Capacity to Respond to Community Needs Today

The current COVID-9 health crisis facing our nation, with millions of Americans sheltering at home, could offer opportunities to embrace collaborative initiatives between higher education and K12 schools. For example,

  • At-home counseling students might develop stress management activities, like offering videos in mindfulness that parents and children can practice together.
    A graduate student-led Zoom mindfulness session could calm children during house-bound days. The session could include the message that careers as counselors, teachers, and doctors involve helping and teaching skills that may be necessary in stressful times like a pandemic.
  • Counseling students can develop lessons to help children learn to use free sites on the internet to teach them about occupations. A side-by-side parenting component, that offers a primer on how to use My Next Move for example, might prove a useful resource for parents who may be in a place of either curiosity or distress.
  • Stand-alone videos or talks about hopes and dreams can make the future feel a little more real. A family career genogram activity can be incorporated into a Counseling with Children and Families class to answer children's questions and offer hope for the future.

Benefits for the Graduate Student

From the perspective of any counseling student, the opportunity for school collaborations and in-vivo practice is valuable, particularly for graduate students who have not experienced a school of poverty. In engaging with real world challenges and needs, the counseling student can feel orientation to a profession that embraces social justice advocacy and commits to walking its Photo By Nery Montenegro On Unsplashtalk- intentionally taking on bias so as to make a profound difference in the kind of tomorrows a child can believe are possible. This article hopes to inspire counselor preparation programs to embrace collaboration with their community's schools, particularly with disadvantaged schools where their help is needed greatly. Adapting training expectations for counselors planning to work with children in school or clinical settings to include delivery of early career development services has potential to result in both better prepared counselors and countless young children receiving decidedly antibiased occupational information and career focused interventions just when their developmental windows of opportunity are most open. It is a powerful opportunity and a compelling call.




American School Counselor Association. (2019). ASCA National model: A framework for school counseling programs (4th ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

American School Counselor Association (2014). Mindsets and behaviors for student success: K-12 college- and career-readiness standards for every student. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Broems, V., & Jackson, M. A. (2020). Antibias career development for evolving identities in elementary school children. In M. A. Jackson, A. K. Regis, and K. Bennett, Kourtney (Eds), Career development interventions for social justice: Addressing needs across the lifespan in educational, community, and employment contexts (pp. 3-22). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Curry, J. R., & Milsom, A. (2017). Career and college readiness counseling in P-12 schools. New York, Springer Publishing.

Gomez, K., & Beecham, F. D. (2019) The “Voice” of children of poverty: Candid insights to their career aspirations and perceptions of selfefficacy. The Urban Review, New York, Springer Publishing.

Gottfredson, L. S. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28(6), 545-579.

Education and Employers. (2016). Inspiring the Future: Redraw the balance [Video]. Retrieved at https://www.inspiringthefuture.org/redraw-the-balance/

National Career Development Association. (2011). Career development: A policy statement of the National Career Development Association. Retrieved from https://careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/fli/4728/false


Kathleen Marie Barrett, Ed.D. is a Counselor Educator at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. A former elementary school counselor, she brings a passion for supporting early career development to her work as a professor. kbarrett@usj.edu


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1 Comment

Linda Sollars   on Sunday 05/10/2020 at 03:41 AM

Kathleen, This is such a relevant and timely article as career development is transitioning into early grades, especially in disadvantaged schools. You are such a wealth of knowledge! Congratulations on an excellent article!

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