I work in a high school in Los Angeles. I have been a high school counselor for the past 8 years, but some for some reason I just can’t seem to find solutions for some of my students regardless of all my efforts. For the case that I am reaching out to you, I feel that I have exhausted all resources. I will continue to work with this student but I need guidance.
I have a 15 year old female student who just came to the US about two years ago. Her English skills are very limited. Academically, she gets average grades. However, I am very concerned about her social interaction with a somewhat popular group of girls. Not only has she started cutting classes, these girls have introduced her to alcohol and drugs. She has admitted to smoking marijuana whenever she cuts classes with them.
Her home situation seem to be healthy. Mom appears to be caring. Mother has a boyfriend who my student seems to be indifferent towards. At first I thought it was the home situation, but when I ask her about it, she insists everything is fine. I really don’t know what it is, but I don’t believe her.
Individual and Group Counseling
Big Sister Mentoring Program
By the way none of it has worked. On the contrary, grades have dropped and she continues to cut classes. Help!
I came across your website through a colleague and found is so interesting. Thank you for your free services!
High School Mediator Response
It is frustrating. I know. I worked in high schools for many years. We would go round and round with the same student unable to find solutions. Don’t give up. Something is wrong. You will get to the bottom of it.
Try to get out of the current cycle you are in. Look at the situation from a different perspective. When we are deeply involved in a situation, we often have tunnel vision and begin to miss the subtle clues around us. And the clues are there. Two years is a long time to see no progress.
When I hear this heart breaking story, I immediately think – two years in the country and still not adjusting- limited English skills- wrong crowd- no intervention that works. The student has not moved forward since her arrival to LA. This information alone is insightful. The next question is – why?
Revisit the beginning. High school counselors are investigators. It is very difficult to get children this age to open up. You are a detective. Students are afraid to talk when they do not trust.
Ask Yourself a Few Questions
1. What is the role of the boyfriend?
Why is the student indifferent to him? Clue: If she is expressing indifference to you, it is more than indifference. Students who do not trust, tone down their responses to outsiders.
2. Where are the other family members?
You did not mention any support system. Brother, sister, cousin… other relatives that may give you insight.
3. How does the mother interact with the student?
More importantly how does the student act in her presence?
4. Why are her English skill still very limited?
Does she choose not to speak English because her inner circle does not, is there a learning problem, or does she feel more comfortable staying at that stage of development? Do her friends speak English?
5. Does she fit in with other students?
Is she teased for any reason? By aligning herself with the “bad girls” she is also protecting herself from the bad people. If you can’t beat them, join them. She also wants and will receive attention for hanging with the wrong crowd.
Consider the Following Steps
1. Find positive ways for student to get attention.
The student wants to desperately fit in. Find positive ways for her to be accepted and fit in at school. I am sure you have done this before and she probably refuses to get involved. Make it mandatory. A school requirement. Regardless of what has happened she still cares to some degree about school (as evident by passing grades) and may respond if pushed a bit. Maybe a certain elective class, student aide program, etc?
2. Don’t mentor the student. Have the student mentor others.
For whatever reason the student is not adapting to her new life. She is unhappy and does not seem to like the US or LA. Which is to be expected but two years later she should show signs of adjustment.
What is the major stumbling block? Ask her to help with a student new to the country and school. Have your student meet and interact with the new student. Ask for feedback about the new student problems adjusting. You will be surprised and will find out more about your student than the new one.
3. Review student program and course placement.
The student cuts class, does not speak English, and still manages to get average grades. Is she challenged enough in class? She must still be in ESL classes since she is not speaking English. This is a major concern.
Find out how to move her into more challenging classes and out of ESL. After two years, she should be in mainstream classes. If she is in regular classes, how is she getting average grades without speaking the language? Either way this area needs further investigation. Conduct an academic intervention.
The ESL teacher/department should have an academic plan and timeline to exit the student from ESL classes. Find out what it is and hold everyone accountable. This is another area you need to push. If you cannot personally oversee this change, ask for involvement and support from the administrators.