What Do African American Ninth Graders Discuss During Individual School Counseling Sessions? A National Study

Added May 28, 2018

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that school counselors spend 80 percent or more of their time in direct and indirect services to students. Direct services are those in-person interactions between school counselors and students, including core curriculum, individual planning, and responsive services (ASCA, 2013). As part of the comprehensive school counseling program, school counselors spend their time in individual counseling sessions for either individual planning or responsive services to meet students’ immediate needs and concerns. Given these recommendations by ASCA, there is a lack of understanding and knowledge as to what topics African American students would discuss during their individual counseling sessions. In order for school counselors to be more efficiently and better prepared in providing counseling services to African American students, this study, which used a nationally representative sample of 9th grade African American students (N=2,450), investigated the topics that African American students discuss during their individual counseling sessions.

This study was guided by the following three research questions:

1) What topics do African American 9th graders discuss during individual counseling sessions?

2) Is there any significant difference in the topics discussed during individual counseling sessions between male and female African American 9th graders?

3) What are the significant predictors of the topics that African American 9th graders discuss during individual counseling sessions.

It was hypothesized that participants discussed academic, course work, and college and career related topics more often than personal problems. Also, we expected to find a significant difference between male and female students in the topics they discussed. Furthermore, we hypothesized that school belonging was a significant predictor of whether or not African American 9th graders discuss different topics during individual counseling sessions.

Results from this study indicated that more than 80% of participants in this study did not seek the services of a school counselor. Of those students who did work with a school counselor, they most often talked about going to college, math courses, and other courses. Moreover, we found that African American males were only more likely to talk with school counselors about their science courses than female students. When examining the socioeconomic status (SES) of participants, our findings suggested that African American students from lower SES households were more likely to talk to school counselors about going to college than students from higher SES households. Lastly, we found that school belonging, which is defined as “the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, and included by others in the school environment” (Goodenow, 1993, p. 80), was a significant predictor of African American students’ likelihood of talking with their school counselor(s) about personal problems.

The ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2013) ensures equitable access to a rigorous education for all students using data-driven decision making. Given the findings of this study, it is important for school counselors to increase the usage of school counseling services among African American students. For instance, by understanding which topics are of interests to the students, school counselors can prepare and deliver a multi-tiered intervention system to best address the interests and needs of African American students. In the first tier, school counselors could deliver a core curriculum to address the topics of highest interest, such as, math courses and going to college. In the second tier, group counseling sessions could be offered to further emphasize the issues that are of second highest interests to African American students, such as career, jobs and science courses. This way would increase the services delivered to all African American students, specifically to those who normally do not seek school counseling services. In the third tier, students with additional needs and support could be served by school counselors with more purposeful planning and more intense and longer duration. This multi-tiered system also could allow more time for school counselors to spend with students during individual sessions to address personal and social-emotional needs.

Furthermore, given that African American students were more likely to talk with a school counselor about their personal problems when they had a sense of belongingness to the school, it is critical for school counselors to demonstrate their genuineness with African American students by having personal contact with the students and increasing their visibility in the building to let students know that they are available support them. Moreover, school counselors should collaborate with teachers and school leaders in the building to share information and develop a plan to support students’ educational aspirations and social-emotional development.

Qi Shi, PhD, Loyola University of Maryland, Timonium; Ramon Goings, EdD, Loyola University of Maryland.


Qi Shi, PhD, Ramon Goings, EdD