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Response to EGAS: An Innovative Approach to Prevent High School Failure for At-Risk, Urban African American Girls.

Children come to school with a variety of factors impinging on their academic success (Rose, 1998). The impact of these factors varies in degree. Furthermore, children from high-risk urban areas may experience barriers that not only hinder academic success, but also support their disengagement from educational institutions. Therefore, working with this particular population requires a sensitivity to and an understanding of both the subtle and obvious issues with which these young people are trying to cope. Authors Bemak, Chung, and Siroskey-Sabdo, in their article "Empowerment Groups for Academic Success: An Innovative Approach to Prevent High School Failure for At-Risk, Urban African American Girls," have introduced us to a model they portend may be an effective intervention in working with at-risk populations. Based upon the self-reports supplied by the African American girls who participated in the study, some acknowledged an improvement in their behavior and their academic achievement. Indeed, the article conveys a powerful portrayal of group process.

The model as described by the authors also is supported by research that finds that group counseling is a much preferred intervention strategy for school-aged children than individual counseling (Greenberg, 2003; see also Rose, 1998; Tennyson, 1989). Many professional school counselors are required to perform a multitude of nonguidance tasks on a daily basis that interfere with their ability to actively seek out and counsel individual students (Gysbers, Lapan, & Roof, 2004; see also McCollum, 1996; Rylander, 2002; Vandegrift, 1999). Moreover, average caseloads for professional school counselors across the country range anywhere from 971 students in California to 224 students in Louisiana, with a national average of 448 students to one counselor, allowing little time for individual attention (American School Counselor Association, n.d.). Therefore, it becomes increasingly more important for professional school counselors to utilize other mechanisms that allow for the support of the youth in their school environments. Group counseling can be a viable option for addressing the needs of students. It is an intervention strategy that allows the professional school counselor to facilitate powerful group processes whereby the students themselves do the work, not only helping themselves but other group members as well.

The narrative provided by the authors indicates a very powerful and emotional group experience for the African-American girls participating in the Empowerment Groups for Academic Success (EGAS) model. Moreover, the EGAS model is described as a very strategic intervention procedure for the African American females involved in the study. However, the EGAS model lacks credible and objective data that could generalize its use to other school environments and with populations composed of different ethnic backgrounds and/or gender. Data that support the model's impact on the lives of the African American females are necessary to market this tool to professional school counselors who work with various populations of students, particularly those who are identified as at risk. While the authors identify the goal of EGAS to help students resolve "difficult personal and interpersonal issues," they also suggest that it is a means of improving academic performance and attendance. Unfortunately, the authors do not provide an evaluation of their approach. While they link this model to student achievement, there are no data provided to determine its effectiveness in accomplishing this end, which counselors must do if the programs being implemented by them in a comprehensive guidance program are going to be taken seriously and valued (ASCA, 2003).

The authors allude to "unexpected events" that prevented "more formal data collection." This information (or lack thereof) leads us to wonder what the particulars were surrounding the study's inability to gather the data. Such information likely would be beneficial, not only in assisting future studies to avoid some of the pitfalls that this study faces, but for the professional school counselors who wish to replicate the study so that they can know what potential barriers impeded the objective data collection process.

Thus, it would be helpful not only for those individuals continuing the research but also for those implementing the model into their school environments to be aware of the possible obstacles faced by these researchers. Questions can't help but surface regarding the reliability of the study: Could the "unexpected events" have been avoided with adequate and appropriate preliminary planning and/or research design? Was there a breakdown in the relationship between the researchers and school officials? Were there perceived compromises to confidentiality and/or informed consent? In order to be effective, this research must include objective and measurable data to accompany and support the study that can demonstrate the usefulness of this model.

School counselors have had a historic role in providing school-based direct services and interventions for students with personal/social, academic, and career difficulties (ASCA, 2003; see also Riester, 2002). For many years, the profession of school counseling has been misperceived and misunderstood by the various audiences with which it works, This has compromised the role of the professional school counselor and the perceived need for these professionals to practice in the school environment. One of the reasons for the lack of support may be the inadequate attention given to the need for accountability and the absence of valid and reliable data that demonstrate the impact of counselors' work in the schools. Objective data are needed to support the legitimacy and value of our efforts.

For many professional school counselors and the interventions they utilize, there are insufficient data to support the impact of the work they do. Efforts are not regarded as viable; and therefore, this often becomes an issue for criticism and devaluing. If there is going to be support for models, programs, interventions, and strategies, such as EGAS, there must be data that demonstrate the difference that such programs make in the personal/social, academic, and career development of students. Therefore, it is imperative that research being conducted support and legitimize the work of professional school counselors.

Future studies need to explore more critically the efficacy of models such as EGAS in working with at-risk student populations. While it appears from the article that the EGAS model had a profound effect on the participants and that, through the group process, these individuals were able to process some powerful emotional issues that had not been processed earlier, there is no clear indication whether this program impacted the academic success of the participants significantly. If the readers were privy to significant changes in attendance, grades, teacher surveys, and so forth that took place over the course of the year, or to differences between the pre-and post-data regarding social skill attainment, behavioral changes, self-esteem, and other factors, the readers could draw some definitive conclusions about the efficacy of this model. Certainly, it does not appear that there was a scarcity of baseline data from which to draw.

Future studies also are needed that explore the effectiveness of the EGAS model in working with African American male students as well as students from different ethnic backgrounds who also may be at risk for dropping out of school or becoming disengaged from the educational environment. Regardless, future research must focus on the necessity of objective data collection that can be utilized to evaluate the model's effectiveness and to generalize the model to situations with other demographics and ethnic populations (Esquivel, 1998).

Overall, it appears that the EGAS model has strong merit and is worthy of further exploration. The need for attention to the affective needs of students cannot be overstated. The self-reports of the African American females provide hope that interventions such as this are instrumental in ensuring that our youth have access to opportunities that increase the likelihood of their academic and life success. The EGAS model allowed students to work together and to see that they are not alone. The model also appears to have provided an opportunity for the participants to recognize that there is a sense of universality to the stated problems and that together they can work to overcome deficits in their education, lack of familial support, lack of school administrative support, and the institutionalized "isms" often associated with at-risk populations.

References

American School Counselor Association. (2003). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). State-by-state student-to-counselor ratio (2001-2002). Retrieved May 23, 2004, from http://www.schoolcounselor.org/library/ ratios.pdf

Esquivel, G. B. (1998). Group interventions with culturally and linguistically diverse students. In K. C. Stoiber & T. R. Kratochwill (Eds.), Handbook of group intervention for children and families (pp. 252-267). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Greenberg, K. R. (2003). Group counseling in K-12 schools: A handbook for school counselors. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Gysbers, N. C., Lapan, R.T., & Roof, C. R. (2004). Non-guidance duties performed by school counselors:What are they? Why are they a problem? What can be done about them? The Counseling Interviewer, 36(4), 23-32.

McCollum, V. J. C. (1996). Team approach to school counseling: Rationale for the use of paraprofessionals. St. Louis, MO: Counseling and Personnel Services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED412478)

Riester, A. E. (2002). Group counseling in the American high school. In S. Aronson & S. Scheidlinger (Eds.), Group treatment of adolescents in context: Outpatient, inpatient, and school (pp. 191-203). Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.

Rose, S. R. (1998). Group work with children and adolescents: Prevention and intervention in school and community systems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rylander, C. K. (2002). Guiding our children toward success: How Texas school counselors spend their time. Austin, TX: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Tennyson, W.W. (1989). Secondary school counselors: What do they do? What is important? The School Counselor, 36, 253-259.

Vandegrift, J. A. (1999). Are Arizona public schools making the best use of school counselors? Results of a three-year study of counselors' time use. Phoenix, AZ: Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

S. Kent Butler and Lela Kosteck Bunch are assistant professors in the Division of Counseling and Family Therapy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
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Title Annotation:EXTENDED DISCUSSION; Empowerment Groups for Academic Success
Author:Bunch, Lela Kosteck
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:1649
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