Counseling in the Gentrified Neighborhood: What School Counselors Should Know

Added February 14, 2018

Gentrification is a process by which low-income, and/or socially marginalized neighborhoods within urban areas are transformed for middle-class residential use (DeSena & Ansalone, 2009). This process can result in reduced availability and increased cost of housing along with a rise in living expenses (Martin, 2008). As gentrification affects communities across the United States, schools must respond to the changes that occur to students and their families and school counselors can take on a leadership role to begin to address those needs. Positive effects of gentrification may include physical renewal of the neighborhood, enhanced local services, increased financial health for some residents, and small increases for student academic outcomes (Atkinson, 2002; Dastrup et al., 2015; Ding, Hwang, & Divringi, 2015; Formoso, Weber, & Atkins, 2010).

The negative impacts of gentrification, however, appear to outweigh the positive ones and some original residents may experience the adverse effects disproportionately. There is a negative impact for original residents and youth due to a loss of the sense of belonging in the neighborhood and the feeling of being judged by new residents (Davidson, 2008; Huyser & Meerman, 2014). This may result in a physical and social divide between original and gentry residents along with different perceptions of the neighborhood schools (Martin, 2008). Finally, disadvantaged residents may not accrue the same financial benefits as other residents (Ding et al., 2015) and the schools may lose funding as gentry residents send their children to schools out of the neighborhood (DeSena & Ansolone, 2009).

Although there is little information in the counseling literature about gentrification, the information gleaned from other fields above lends some direction for school counselor interventions. The ecological school counseling (ESC) model (McMahon, Mason, Daluga-Guenther, & Ruiz, 2014) also provides concepts that support a systemic approach to addressing gentrification. School counselors’ initial response should focus on understanding their students and families in context, which involves multilevel assessment (McMahon et al., 2014). For example, counselors may solicit reports from teachers and students regarding gentrification effects in the school and initiate outreach efforts to survey community perceptions of needs.

Interventions within the school would very likely focus on student identity development due to stereotyping in the community as well as relationships of students. The goal is to enhance interconnectivity through valuing each student’s contribution to the system (McMahon et al., 2014). Activities from the Teaching Tolerance website and the Diversity Activities Resource Guide from the University of Houston provide excellent strategies focused on cultural identity development, diversity, racism, and stereotyping. Due to the intensity of emotions around these topics, school counselors may need to seek advanced training to effectively facilitate discussion of these topics.

Outreach to parents and the community is an essential component of an ESC (McMahon et al., 2014) and key to helping families support their students during gentrification. Because low-income parents may experience barriers to participation in schools (e.g., long work hours, lack of child care) (Van Velsor & Orozco, 2009), school personnel must support these parents in overcoming challenges to involvement (e.g., providing child care for meetings). Moreover, gentry residents may eventually enroll their students in the neighborhood schools with the intent of improving them. In these instances, counselors must collaborate with other school personnel (e.g., teachers, administrators) to ensure that original and gentry residents contribute their ideas equally to school changes.

Finally, the school counselor role involves advocacy (ASCA, 2012) and schools in gentrifying neighborhoods must direct these efforts in certain areas. Endeavors may begin with drawing attention to the effects of gentrification and mobilizing school personnel to aid in assessment of specific issues in their schools. Although schools will vary in their needs, racism and stereotyping may likely emerge as areas to address. School counselors can collaborate with teachers to identify where discussion of these topics might integrate into the educational curriculum (e.g., history of the civil rights movement). If school funding decreases, school counselors may also need to present data to school boards to substantiate the positive effects of school counseling and advocate for necessary resources for their schools.

Lauren E. Bell, MA, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA; Patricia Van Velsor, PhD, San Francisco State University.


Lauren E. Bell, MA, Patricia Van Velsor, PhD