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Advocacy--professional school counselors closing the achievement gap through empowerment: a response to Hipolito-Delgado and Lee.

The article by Hipolito-Delgado and Lee, "Empowerment Theory for the Professional School Counselor: A Manifesto for What Really Matters," addresses a timely topic and highlights the critical need for a comprehensive, multicultural school guidance program. More important, it calls attention to the need for 21st-century professional school counselors to engage in effective practice with students who are marginalized and oppressed, including those who are gay/lesbian, students with disabilities, and students of color. The notion of applying empowerment theory to the role of professional school counselors and a comprehensive, multicultural school guidance program offers hope for better serving some of our country's most marginalized and oppressed students. It is important to call attention to the needs of these students because it is easy for students who are often on the periphery to be forgotten and, accordingly, underserved or inappropriately served.

In an era of supposed increased accountability, including the Education Trust's Transforming the School Counselor Initiative and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, widening achievement gaps, and ambiguity regarding the professional school counselor role, Hipolito-Delgado and Lee's article presents a compelling case for a paradigm shift. In their article, the authors employ Paulo Freire's theoretical framework of humanizing pedagogy to develop a theoretical framework they refer to as empowerment theory.

Hipolito-Delgado and Lee offer a unique way for professional school counselors to frame the empowerment of marginalized individuals. Using the pedagogy of the oppressed and applying it to the discipline of school counseling allows professional school counselors to view empowerment multidimensionally--for individuals, groups/parents, and the community. The nontraditional application of empowerment theory to the role and work of school counselors is useful and liberating. Several authors (Bemak & Chung, 2005; Bryan, 2005; Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Lee, 2005) have contributed to the current literature that examines the professional school counselor's role of advocate, champion of social justice, social change agent, and urban school counselor. In order to empower marginalized students to increase achievement and be successful, these advocacy roles have been identified by the Education Trust, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and the American Counseling Association.

With that said, professional school counselors' perspectives can potentially be shaped or influenced by applying Freire's empowerment theory to their roles. If professional school counselors share these empowerment values, their perception and thinking of marginalized students, followed by their actions, may result in a systemic effect. This includes the school, individual students, parents, and the community and would foster a school climate that values empowerment and promotes access and equity for all students.

Hipolito-Delgado and Lee in their article speak to several key issues surrounding the achievement gap as it relates to underrepresented or marginalized groups. First, they explore various obstacles to academic achievement that many students from ethnic backgrounds and other marginalized groups encounter. These include a history of oppression, racism, and marginalization in the American school system and society, which must be understood before applying the empowerment theory.

The reality is that many professional school counselors are of the majority race and presumably have been socialized in the same American, ethnocentric curricula and school system that disserves marginalized students. What would motivate professional school counselors to want to change their behavior? Where does the empowerment theory allow for or recognize that it seems to put too much emphasis on the ability of the marginalized individual student to transcend the impact of classism, racism, oppression, White privilege, and homophobia? While the authors allude to the pervasive and insidious nature of oppression and see the professional school counselor as a social change agent, there is much to be done systemically, as they pointed out, to eradicate or minimize the impact of these oppressions.

These are great ideals being espoused, but the application of empowerment theory seems to be based on several assumptions:

* That all professional school counselors want to empower these marginalized students and see this as their major role

* That the majority of professional school counselors are socially conscious and want to eradicate oppression, racism, ableism, and homophobia

* That professional school counselors have high self-efficacy in their role (Mitcham-Smith, 2007) as advocate, social justice champion, and social change agent

* That principals and other school administrators value and prioritize empowering marginalized students

* That professional school counselors are willing to partake in the professional development training required to bring to fruition this paradigm shift.

The framework espoused by Hipolito-Delgado and Lee is notable and ideal for achieving higher levels of equity in working with students who are traditionally marginalized or oppressed. If these ideals were to be holistically embraced and embedded in counselor education preparation and practice, it would move the profession toward a comprehensive, multicultural guidance program. Without a commitment to the practices required to adhere to empowerment theory and advocate for social justice, the major transformation of the professional school counselor role in this regard is unlikely to happen.

Increasing school counselors' multicultural awareness and competence is recognized as an area of professional need (Constantine, 2001; Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Schwallie-Giddis, Anstrom, Sanchez, Sardi, & Granato, 2004). This suggests that counselor education programs should require significantly more training in multicultural competence (Dixon Rayle & Myers, 2004; Taylor & Adelman, 2000). Although ASCA presents position statements articulating the inclusion of multicultural awareness and the need for counselors to be culturally competent, there is still more work to be done. Engaging school principals and administrators is a key step in professional school counselors adopting and operating under an empowerment theoretical framework. National, state, and local levels must focus on multicultural competencies for school counselors and push for increased training on empowerment in order to model and infuse change.

In order for professional school counselors to operate within an empowerment theoretical framework, the non-counselor and administrative work that some counselors get designated would need to be reassigned. Professional school counselors can be effective in closing the achievement gap if they engage in professional counselor duties and deliver a multicultural comprehensive school guidance program that advocates for all students. Having professional school counselors engage in non-counselor duties thwarts their ability to close the achievement gap of marginalized students or those who have been oppressed.

Professional school counselors recently have been under the scrutiny of a national agenda, which focuses on accountability (Dahir, 2004; Dahir & Stone, 2003; Myrick, 2003; Paisley & McMahon, 2001), and as a result, professional school counselors must justify how well they are meeting the needs of all students (Dahir, 2004; Myrick, 2003). Furthermore, professional school counselors must advocate for all students (Paisley & McMahon, 2001) and be prepared to adopt new roles such as advocate, catalyst, and facilitator (Taylor & Adelman, 2000). The empowerment framework presented by Hipolito-Delgado and Lee is a step in moving the professional school counselor toward a multicultural, comprehensive guidance program, which includes the transformation of individuals, school systems, counselor education preparation, and the community.


Bemak, F., & Chung, R. (2005). Advocacy as a critical role for urban school counselors: Working toward equity and social justice. Professional School Counseling, 8, 196-202.

Bryan, J. (2005). Fostering educational resilience and achievement in urban schools through school-family-community partnerships. Professional School Counseling, 8, 219-227.

Constantine, M. (2001).Theoretical orientation, empathy, and multicultural counseling competence in school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 4, 342-349.

Dahir, C. A. (2004). Supporting a nation of learners: The role of school counseling in educational reform. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82, 344-353.

Dahir, C. A., & Stone, C. B. (2003). Accountability: A M.E.A.S.U.R.E. of the impact school counselors have on student achievement. Professional School Counseling, 6, 214-220.

Dixon Rayle, A., & Myers, J. (2004). Counseling adolescents toward wellness: The roles of ethnic identity, acculturation, and mattering. Professional School Counseling, 8, 81-91.

Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2004). Assessing the multicultural competence of school counselors: A checklist. Professional School Counseling, 7, 178-184.

Lee, C. C. (2005). Urban school counseling: Context, characteristics, and competencies. Professional School Counseling, 8, 184-188.

Mitcham-Smith, M. (2007). Relationships among school counselor self-efficacy, perceived school counselor role, and actual practice. Manuscript in preparation.

Myrick, R. D. (2003). Accountability: Counselors count. Professional School Counseling, 6, 174-180.

Paisley, P. O., & McMahon, G. H. (2001). School counseling for the 21st century: Challenges and opportunities. Professional School Counseling, 5, 106-116.

Schwallie-Giddis, P., Anstrom, K., Sanchez, P., Sardi, V., & Granato, L. (2004). Counseling the linguistically and culturally diverse student: Meeting school counselors' professional development needs. Professional School Counseling, 8, 15-24.

Taylor, L., & Adelman, H. S. (2000). Connecting schools, families, and communities. Professional School Counseling, 3, 298-308.

Michelle Mitcham-Smith, Ph.D., is an assistant professor with the University @South Florida. E-mail:
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Author:Mitcham-Smith, Michelle
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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