This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia has three guidance counselors for 1,700 students. Those seeking individual attention need to be one of two things, said recent graduate Tyreek Thompkins: really smart or really troubled.
“The people in the middle are just left there,” said Thompkins.
That’s no fault of the guidance counselors at George Washington, said Thompkins’ classmate Joseph Ware. He knows they’re overextended. Still, Ware can’t help but feel, in his words, “shafted.”
“He was never in his office,” Ware says of his assigned counselor. “When you needed him, he wasn’t there, because he always had to deal with another student who needed to graduate, rather than helping someone who’s on track to do it.”
Thanks to a modest budget surplus, the School District of Philadelphia will be able to put at least one guidance counselor in every school this September. But years of cutbacks have taken a toll, with outside groups often working furiously to fill in the gaps.
When it comes to college access, in particular, the nonprofit space is increasingly crowded. The White-Williams Scholars program run by Philadelphia Futures focuses on steering financial aid to high achievers. Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia identifies students in middle school and tracks them through high school graduation. TeenSHARP over in Camden works hard to link bright, low-income students with selective colleges that better reflect their academic ability.