Printer Friendly

Conducting a school-based practicum: a collaborative model.

Practicum in a school counselor education program is often designed to bridge the gap between training and practice. In many programs, however, practicum continues to be a clinically based experience with little to no connection to the school environment. In an effort to increase the focus on the specific roles and functions of school counseling, the authors created a school-based model for practicum that is both collaborative and integrative.


Much of the school counseling literature in recent years has focused on transforming the profession (Clark & Stone, 2000; House, Martin, & Ward, 2002; Paisley, 1999). The revision of the American School Counseling Association's (ASCA) National Standards for School Counseling Programs (2003), the Education Trust's Transforming School Counseling Initiative (TSCI; n.d.), and the school reform movement (U.S. Department of Education, 2001), have all inspired changes in school counselors' roles. However, according to Paisley (1999), school counselors are not being prepared or utilized to best meet the educational needs of today's youth. In order to address these deficiencies, the Education Trust TSCI offered an innovative approach for training future school counselors and for more effectively utilizing practicing school counselors. The TSCI approach encourages counselor education programs to better prepare school counselors to become action-oriented critical thinkers (House et al.). The use of school counselors as leaders in the school environment, advocates for academic equity, consultants and collaborators, and key stakeholders in the education reform movement is stressed by the TSCI (House et al.). It stands to reason that school counselors in training who have more exposure to the actual school environment and who begin to view themselves as leaders and advocates will be better prepared for the evolving role of today's professional school counselor.

Similarly, the school reform movement (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) has paved the way for a concentrated focus on student achievement, academic equity, and academic success for all students. However, school counselors have traditionally lacked the training and the opportunity to develop skills to become part of the leadership team in the school to promote the educational development of all children (Clark & Stone, 2000). The skills of coordination, advocacy, collaboration, and evaluation are often not found in traditional counselor preparation programs in either the classroom or the practicum and internship experiences. According to Bemak (2000), graduate training programs for school counselors have maintained a similar curriculum for decades, often ignoring the changing nature of public education and the changing needs of children. Bemak also emphasized the importance for school counseling students to have opportunities to develop skills in practicing collaboration and coordination while in training; not just on the job.

Despite calls for changes in the preparation of school counselors, traditional counseling programs often fail to focus on the evolving roles and functions of today's professional school counselors. On average, school counselor preparation programs offer one to two school counseling-specific courses, with the majority of the coursework following a general counseling core curriculum (Perusse, Goodnough,& Noel, 2001). Furthermore, in many school counselor preparation programs, students' first school-based experience occurs during their internship. Approximately 32% of school counselor preparation programs surveyed by Perusse et al. required no practicum experience in a school setting. As a result, some school counseling students enter internship with minimal content knowledge and little practical experience vital to help prepare them for their role in the school setting.


A question not yet fully answered in the literature is, "What kind of practicum experience is the best preparation for internship?" In order to explore this question, we conducted an electronic survey of counselor educators. Through a national list-serve for counselor educators, we posed the following question: "For school counselors, which of the following practicum experiences is the best preparation for internship?" Three choices were given for participant responses. (a) College-based clinical setting, (b) Field-based school setting, or (c) Combination of these experiences. A total of 13 counselor educators responded to the query. Of these, 2 (15.4%) preferred the college-based clinical setting, 8 (61.5%) preferred a field-based school setting, and 3 (23.1%) preferred a combination of college-based and school settings for practicum.

Some comments from the counselor educators (N = 2) who identified a college-based clinical setting as most efficacious for school counselor preparation included, "My current practicum students report that much of their time at the school is occupied doing meaningless, errand type tasks," "Another issue is ... that my students continuously express frustration at a seeming misunderstanding from the school counselor," and "There are ethical issues with transporting tapes, questions about proper supervision on site."

Comments from the counselor educators (N = 8) who identified a field-based setting as most efficacious for school counselor preparation included: "I think students will be more effective overall having a closely supervised practicum. If they can get it in a school setting, so much the better," "I believe that if you expect counselors-in-training to work with a specialized population such as children as a distinct cultural group, then both practicum and internship would be best served by experiences out in the schools," and "All other factors being equal--quality supervision, access to videotaping, appropriate clients for clinical work, etc.--then field-based school setting is best."

The counselor educators (N = 3) who identified a combination of experiences as most efficacious for school counselor preparation made the following comments: "What we are developing is a practicum that is a combination of university-based clinical experiences, advanced skills workshops, school-based experiences focused on classroom guidance, and a volunteering experience in a community setring. This is providing a comprehensive approach that nurtures a professional identity and develops competence in our counselor-in-training," and "I've found that the combination approach provides a much richer, well-rounded experience. First, they have a wider range of clients, greater amount of supervision, immediate feedback at campus labs, witness skills development much better."

Although our survey had only 13 participants, those who chose to respond clearly preferred a field-based placement for school counseling practicum students. Participant responses also reflected common areas of concern expressed about school-based practicum sites. These include potential lack of structure, inconsistency of experiences, quality control, adequate supervision, and adequate taping opportunities. In a survey of 186 school counselor education programs, Stickel (1995) found a number of participants who expressed a need for more quality control of site experiences and closer on-site supervision. We specifically addressed these common shortcomings with the development of our collaborative school-based practicum experience.


Given the calls to adjust school counselor training to better prepare students to both meet the demands of the school counselor role and to specifically help students learn to function as leaders and advocates in the schools, we collaborated to develop a comprehensive, school-based practicum experience. Our plan involved changing the traditional model of practicum that had existed for a number of years in the CACREP-accredited school counseling program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Although some school counselor training programs do have school-based practicum experiences, we wanted to expand this model by incorporating the leadership and collaborative roles emphasized by the TSCI (Education Trust, n.d.) and the new ASCA National Standards (2003). Specifically, school counseling practicum students would obtain supervised practice in many of the "transformed" school counselor roles including leadership, collaboration, and advocacy. Our plan involved keeping individual and group counseling as a key component; however, practicum students would also consult with teachers, conference with parents, attend and participate in team meetings, and advocate for student personal/social and academic success. The on-site practicing school counselor would serve as a mentor and model in guiding school counselors in training in their development as leaders, advocates, and change agents. The school counseling faculty at UNLV have built a program in which the individual and group practicum courses function as bridges between coursework and practice. This "theory into practice" model is not unusual in counselor training. According to Baird (2002), the practicum gives students a chance to experience firsthand what they have been studying in their coursework. Although this philosophy had always been touted as a key structure of practicum at UNLV, the reality has been much different. Until the Spring of 2001, students in the school counselor preparation program completed their individual practicum experience at a campus-based community mental health center serving individuals and families in the area. This experience, though valuable, failed to help students move from theory into practice as we had envisioned.

Changes in the school counseling curriculum at UNLV were fueled by the recognition that school environments are unique, dynamic environments that are fundamentally different from mental health agency settings. As suggested by Bemak (2000), courses with school-specific content such as Introduction to School Counseling, Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention in the Schools, Introduction to Group Counseling in the Schools, and Ethics and Issues in School Counseling have been developed at UNLV to provide students with information relevant to the setting in which they will work.

As curricular changes in the school counseling program continued to evolve and incorporate more school-specific coursework and experiences, the campus-based individual practicum in a mental health setting seemed to be counterproductive to the specific training needs of our school counseling students. While no one questioned the value of school-counseling students gaining mental health counseling experience, it was apparent that students moving into internship felt overwhelmed and at a loss in terms of handling large caseloads, short counseling time-frames, and the myriad of other duties (i.e., parent conferences, classroom guidance, teaming, and collaboration) that came along with the school counseling role. We had already witnessed success in implementing school-counseling specific coursework, and we realized that a more effective individual practicum experience would likewise require the shift to a school-based setting.


In order to begin the transition to a school-based practicum, we developed an alternative experience for students in the school counseling program. During the pilot semester, individual practicum still relied on the campus-based mental health center; however, students were also given the option to supplement their individual counseling experiences with school counseling specific experience at Paradise Professional Development School (PPDS), a K-5, at-risk school with approximately 750 students. Collaboration between a university and a school district is the hallmark of a professional development school. Located on the UNLV campus, the Paradise Professional Development School provided a natural, real-world setting for practicum students. Our collaboration began in 1998 and has led to the implementation of school counseling specific research, teaching, and practicum and internship experiences for students.

The school counselor at PPDS proved to be integral in developing and implementing this practicum model. As noted by some of the counselor educators in our on-line query, school-based practicum sites need a site-based supervisor with clear expectations, strong mentoring, and supervising capabilities. A commitment to provide appropriate experiences for students is key in creating a successful experience. The school counselor at PPDS provided practicum students with close supervision and mentoring that drew upon her experience as a school leader and advocate for systemic change. As one example of this, she was instrumental in the development of a cooperative behavior management program at PPDS. She obtained grant funding, collaborated with faculty at PPDS and UNLV to provide training and implement the program, and has been a key player in the management of the program.


In order to gain school counseling experiences at PPDS, practicum students were asked to identify a 3- to 4-hour block of time each week to counsel with children at the elementary school. Given that two of the practicum students were themselves teachers who were not available to work at PPDS during the day, five of the seven practicum students opted to participate. The five participating students were responsible for setting up an initial meeting with the school counselor to discuss their schedule, case load of students, and duties and responsibilities. The school counselor also scheduled time with participating students for both individual meetings/ supervision and weekly group meetings which the practicum instructor also attended.

The five practicum students maintained a case load of two to four clients in the clinical setting and four to six clients in the school setting during this pilot semester. Prior to working with students at PPDS, the graduate students and the faculty instructor met with the school counselor for an orientation to the school, including a policy and procedures discussion and a question and answer session. Parent permission to videotape and receive counseling services had already been obtained by the school counselor.

Practicum students were asked by the school counselor to develop a counselor "tool box" for utilizing play in counseling with their assigned students. They were then instructed on the following procedures before beginning work with the students: (1) meet with the teacher (consultant role) to gather information about the student, (2) contact the parent to begin establishing a working relationship and to gain any insights about the child, and (3) read any available information on each student. Once these steps were completed, practicum students were to meet with their assigned clients. The school counselors in training were cautioned that they were not to see their clients every week, which resembled the mental health model of the clinic setting. The practicum students were also asked to construct a specific counseling plan for each client, including theory, modalities and techniques. Solution-focused counseling and brief therapy techniques were discussed and modeled. Writing a behavior program and/or working with the student in the class setting were also considered as desirable interventions for accruing school counseling practicum hours.

School counseling practicum students video taped their sessions in the privacy of their own assigned office at the PPDS. Tapes were viewed and discussed in individual supervision and were stored at the PPDS. To account for securing tapes at one location, individual supervision sessions were conducted at the school site. Tapes were then erased at the end of the semester.

Given the at-risk population at PPDS, graduate students were quickly immersed in the types of issues and problems facing this population. Homelessness, violence and substance abuse in the family, and behavioral concerns are all common issues faced by children at PPDS. For example, approximately 2.5% of students at PPDS can be classified as homeless through the Homeless Education Act. According to Holcomb-McCoy (1998), school counselors in urban settings are now encountering more students with personal, social, and academic difficulties as a result of being homeless. Holcomb-McCoy also suggests that in order for future school counselors to be effective, they should have practicum and internship experiences in urban schools that have effective school counselors.


The five participating students accomplished several things during their experience at Paradise Professional Development School. First, they easily obtained the required number of hours for practicum in our CACREP accredited program. Second, they gained realistic counseling experiences at an actual school setting. Third, through supervision and guidance from both authors, they established a clear counseling approach and orientation to working with youth in a school setting. Fourth, through the mentoring and modeling of the school counselor, they experienced other aspects of the school counselor's role including collaborator, advocate, consultant, and leader.

The five participating students completed a supplemental evaluation in addition to their regular course evaluation completed for the college of education. In the supplemental evaluation, they were asked to comment on how the use of the university clinically based site and the PPDS helped or hindered their experiences in practicum. Student responses included:

* They were both extremely valuable. It was helpful to have someone like Dr. S (school counselor) at Paradise who gave us plenty to do, cared about our experience, learning, and growth.

* At the CICFC (university site), I saw adult clients only. The Paradise experience gave me much needed experience with working with children.

* I enjoyed the opportunity to work both at the center as well as at Paradise elementary, although the two sites offered very different experiences.

* It was hard working at both sites. The approaches were so different, that planning was more difficult. I would have preferred to work only at the school site.

Student comments echoed the counselor educators' concern about having practicum experiences in these two different settings. Students would report through the semester confusion about treatment planning given the different expectations and foci of the two sites. In addition, students seeing clients at the university-based setting primarily worked with adult clients.

Given our success with the collaborative practicum experience, the school counseling program at UNLV has evolved to include school-based experiences for all students across elementary and secondary school levels. Beginning with the Fall 2002 semester, all practicum students enrolled in an elementary practicum at PPDS or a secondary practicum at a participating alternative high school. The alternative high school setting was selected because it made evening hours available for those students working full time during the day. Students earn all practicum hours at their designated school site. In addition, taping, instruction, and group and individual supervision take place at the school sites. University instructors work closely with school counselors in obtaining referrals for individual and group counseling. University and school personnel also collaborate on seminar lessons, group supervision, and individual supervision activities.

Another exciting addition to the practicum experience at PPDS is the use of the school's internal taping system. Twelve classrooms at PPDS are wired with the Remote Audio-Visual Observation (RAVO) system. There are recording and observation stations located within the school and at the professional development building attached to the school. This system allows for less-intrusive taping and real-time observation. Given the ongoing success of the collaboration between UNLV and PPDS, experiences at PPDS have expanded to include counseling practice for a pre-practicum course using rooms at Paradise as well as the RAVO system. Plans are in place to build on the existing model and create a cohort experience for select students in the school counseling program at UNLV. This model would allow students to gain training at Paradise Professional Development School from their pre-practicum experience, through their practicum and internship experiences; creating a rich field placement experience with more breadth and depth.


Through the collaboration between the school counseling program at UNLV and PPDS, practicum students have reported a richness of experience not previously seen during practicum. Successes of the collaboration have included focused attention for children attending PPDS who might not otherwise receive help, increased participation from teachers who have reported great benefit to having UNLV students working with some of their more challenging students, and increased exposure to working in a school setting prior to the internship experience. For some participating students, this practicum was their first experience in a school setting. The benefit of gaining a real picture of the school counselor's role as well as learning a realistic and practical approach to counseling students in an elementary school was mentioned by students in their evaluation of the course.

The new practicum structure builds a stronger bridge between curricular experiences and internship experiences. Under close supervision and collaboration between university and school personnel, students have the opportunity to gain more experience in the setting in which they are being trained to work.

As the nature of the school counseling profession continues to evolve, the importance of providing school counselors in training with relevant curricular experiences as well as real-world training experiences cannot be underestimated. The development of the collaborative, comprehensive model of practicum at UNLV is one more step towards better preparing school counselors for the setting in which they will work.


American School Counselors Association. (2003). The ASCA National Model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Baird, B. N. (2002). The internship, practicum, and field placement handbook: A guide for the helping professions (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N J: Prentice Hall.

BemaK F. (2000).Transforming the role of the counselor to provide leadership in educational reform through collaboration. Professional School Counseling, 3, 323-331.

Clark, M. A., & Stone, C. (2000).The developmental school counselor as educational leader. In J. Wittmer (Ed.), Managing your school counseling program: K- 12 developmental strategies (2nd ed., pp. 75-82). Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media.

Education Trust. (n.d.).Transforming School Counseling Initiative. Retrieved May 15, 2002, from http'J/ Counseling/Counseling+tsci.htm.

Holcomb-McCoy, C. C. (1998). School counselor preparation in urban settings. (Report No. CG-028-359). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED418343).

House, R. M., Martin, R J., & Ward, C. C. (2002). Changing school counselor preparation: A critical need. In C. D. Johnson & S. K. Johnson (Eds.), Building stronger school counseling programs: Bringing futuristic approaches into the present (pp. 185-208). Greensboro, NC: ERIC Clearing house on Counseling and Student Services.

Paisley, P.O. (1999). The next evolution in school counselor practice and preparation: A national initiative, local example, and personal reflection. The Journal of the Pennsylvania Counseling Association, 1 (1), 7-15.

Perusse, R., Goodnough, G. E., & Noel, C. J. (2001). A national survey of school counselor preparation programs: Screening methods, faculty experiences, curricular content, and fieldwork requirements. Counselor Education and Supervision, 40, 252-262.

Stickel, S. A. (1995, March). The internship in school counseling: A national survey of counselor training programs. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Educational Research Association. Hilton Head, SC. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED388908).

U.S. Department of Education. (2001). No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Washington, DC: Author.

Kelly Coker, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. E-mail: Sharee Schrader, Ph.D., is the school counselor at Paradise Professional
COPYRIGHT 2004 American School Counselor Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Perspectives From The Field
Author:Schrader, Sharee
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:A safe school climate: a systemic approach and the school counselor.
Next Article:Motivational Enhancement therapy: a tool for professional school counselors working with adolescents.

Related Articles
Expanding the developmental school counseling paradigm: meeting the needs of the 21st Century student.
An experiential and systemic approach to encourage collaboration and community building.
The collaborative group counseling referral process: description and teacher evaluation. (Perspectives From The Field).
Teacher perceptions and expectations of school counselor contributions: implications for program planning and training.
University-Urban School Collaboration in school counseling.
Supervising school counselors-in-training: a guide for field supervisors.
Group counseling: beyond the traditional.
The ASCA National Model, accountability, and establishing causal links between school counselors' activities and student outcomes: a reply to sink.
An after-school counseling program for high-risk middle school students.
School Counseling Leadership Team: a statewide collaborative model to transform school counseling.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters