A Counselor Advocacy Reminder from Alaska (#90)

Have you ever thought about transferring to another school or school district? Maybe one with fewer challenges?! If you’re thinking of Alaska, think again. Alaska’s School Counselor of the Year Elizabeth Congdon-McGee shares time with us this week with a reminder that school counseling is hard work no matter where you are.

Inspiring School Counselors
A Counselor Advocacy Reminder from Alaska (#90)

This Week's Storyteller

Elizabeth Congdon-McGee has more than 20 years’ experience as a professional school counselor. She began her career as a clinical therapist working with young children, at-risk youth, and classroom teaching. Elizabeth is currently a professional school counselor at Whaley K-12 School in the Anchorage (Alaska) School District, a former President of the Alaska School Counselor Association, and currently Alaska’s School Counselor of the Year. 

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A rough transcript follows. Please check back for the full, edited transcript.

Matt Fleck:
Happy Spring, everyone, and welcome back to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success. Have you ever been to Alaska? Maybe on a cruise or perhaps visiting friends or family? Maybe you’re like Elizabeth Congdon-McGee – our guest this week – who lives and works in the 49th state. If you’re a school counselor in Alaska it’s likely you know Elizabeth since she is the 2021 School Counselor of the Year.

You wouldn’t think it but Elizabeth says the city of Anchorage – where she works – is quite diverse, in fact, if you look at a diversity pie chart for Anchorage schools (like I did) it looks like an actual pie with evenly-sized slices – with almost exactly equal percentages of students who are Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, Hawaiian and mixed race.

Elizabeth Congdon-McGee:
And you think Anchorage, Alaska, but we have the top three in the nation of diverse. We have the top three high schools, middle school and elementary schools as the, the most diverse schools in the nation. We get a variety of refugees coming through Alaska and a variety of, you know, situations that they just land themselves in Anchorage. And so we have to really get to know the different cultures and, and really be, to be able to provide their services.  

Elizabeth grew up in a family that she says gave her a lot of privileges but along the way she discovered she had a knack, a natural affinity and skill for working with marginalized, at-risk kids. One of these former students continued to text and message Elizabeth to seek out her help, even years after she had graduated.

We went through back and forth of messaging on Facebook, cuz I will not give them my direct line. I, I don’t do my personal information with them, but through she got found me on Facebook and messaged me and she was part of human trafficking. She was part of that lifestyle. Unfortunately got wrapped up in the at Mr. Mother, her mother had passed away and she was wanting to go join her mom, a lot of suicidal ideations and would text me goodbye, Ms. McGee, have a good life. See you later. And of course I have to do APS and do all those things, even though she wasn’t my student anymore. And just constantly trying to keep her going. And she just, um, messaged me the other day. And she’s been cleaning sober for two years, doing great things, trying to get her siblings under her care versus her father who is a, um, alcoholic. This is, these are, um, young people that people don’t think are gonna make it anywhere. And I, you have the privilege of saying I had an impact in their life and, um, made a difference. I can’t ask for better than that as a school counselor.  

One of the attributes that makes Elizabeth Alaska’s School Counselor of the Year is her self-described ability to have tough conversations and to advocate for the work of school counselors.

People ask me why I stay here and that’s because I actually can do professional school counseling. Mm-hmm I, um, do very little scheduling. Um, I don’t do test coordinating. I do not do 5 0 4 coordinating. I do sit in the I P meetings, but that’s because they wanna hear what I have to say to move forward. I have gotten down the IEPs. I am in there, but only for 10 minutes of direct services. So that allows me to do a check in checkout and I can provide data on all the other school counseling services that I can provide for these students. So it hasn’t always been this way. I’ve had to show data and work very hard to get to where I’m at. But when I hear that they’re changing schedules and they spend 80% of their time scheduling where I spend 80% of my time in direct services with students.

Advocating for the important work of school counselors is time consuming and takes work, says Elizabeth, so she advises…”don’t do it alone, partnering with your colleagues is your best bet.”

Build those connections with your other school counselors because that’s also an advocacy piece. One voice, one vision, because truly if we do not advocate for our professions, cuz we do not know how to tutor our own horn. And we do such wonderful work that our profession is going to slowly incinerate because they’re gonna find other people to do our jobs, but they, so then they put us into scheduling and test coordinating. Well, if you can show the data that you really can change an academic gap in a, in the third grade classroom or in the ninth grade group, show that data start with one classroom and really with your staff because that’s really, what’s gonna make the difference for you as a professional school counselor.

So true. Thanks, Elizabeth. 

Her advice is well-timed because if YOU want to better advocate for your role as a counselor – to use data as part of a truly comprehensive and effective school counseling program – we can help. Our new Inspire Success RAMP Ready online platform is NOW enrolling schools and school counselors for the 2022-23 school year who want to implement the ASCA National Model and apply for RAMP in a step by step, easy to follow system. You can find all the details at inspiresuccess.org/rampready. 

And if by chance you want to implement a solid counseling program framework but you DON’T want to mess around with RAMP, check out BASE CAMP which allows you to implement an easy, Effective School Counseling framework that mirrors the ASCA model but is a counseling program structure that you can use year after. And surprise – Base Camp is totally free. So be sure to take a look at inspiresuccess.org/rampready.

Thank you for listening. Have a great week!