Relationships Help First Generation Students Reach Higher

Reykdal, a finalist for the American School Counselor Association ‘s 2016 National School Counselor of the Year award visited Washington, D.C. with Steffany Heredia, a senior at Olympia High School. (Photo courtesy Kim Reykdal)

Reykdal, a finalist for the American School Counselor Association ‘s 2016 National School Counselor of the Year award visited Washington, D.C., with Steffany Heredia, a senior at Olympia High School. (Photo courtesy Kim Reykdal)

Every spring, as March Madness heats up, it’s not just basketball brackets bringing on the fever pitch of competition. In many high schools, March Madness is about college acceptances; who’s gotten them, and who hasn’t. Information about the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in the ever-increasing race to be branded a “success,” travels instantly along the hallways and social media highways.

For first generation college students, this annual “race to nowhere”, as a recent documentary termed it, often ends before it even begins unless someone outside of their nuclear family guides them through the college application process. In many public schools, overwhelming caseloads leave school counselors without the time and resources necessary to provide students with adequate career and college guidance. Administrators must rely on teachers and other staff, or specific college preparatory programs like AVID, to help prepare students for a variety of 2 and 4-year college options, and other post-high school pathways.

In this year, my seventeenth as a school counselor and third as a Career & College Counselor specifically, I saw an increased number of our first generation college students pass through the college application gauntlet. They emerged more self-confident and ready to embrace the challenges inherent in stepping out on their own.

Why so many this year? It was teamwork.

Olympia High School is in its sixth year as an AVID school. The curriculum certainly helps to prepare our students for college, but it is the close, almost familial relationship between the AVID teacher – the head coach – and students that truly accelerates our students’ academic and personal growth. I work as part of the AVID team, providing extra academic guidance, personal support and college application assistance. Sometimes, that’s all it takes – a second or third caring adult to encourage a student to strive for more, and suddenly they begin to believe they can.

Such was the case with one of our AVID seniors who I recently discovered had chosen to attend our local community college out of the fear of being rejected by a 4-year college. When I heard about her plan, I once again assured her, “You can do this”! As the AVID assistant coach, I was an additional voice of encouragement that gave her that last little push to complete the application. Two weeks later she was accepted and is now on her way to becoming a Central Washington University Wildcat!

Teachers, counselors, administrators and other adults can be the champions that every student needs to realize their dreams. Any staff member and any school can choose to prioritize meaningful student-teacher relationships. The research supports this approach as a key factor in student achievement, and these kinds of success stories can happen in any school.

Kim Reykdal is a Career & College Counselor, Lead AVID Counselor and the Senior Class Advisor at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington.


  1. Thank you for mentioning the importance of AVID in helping students (minorities and not) get into college. Having once taught AVID and now working as a Vice Principal of a HS with an active AVID program, AVID has been acknowledged to be a major reason why many of our students get into 4-year colleges right out of high school. Because there is a push of AP classes and a college going view point, more and more students are feeling prepared and are willing to take the chance on going straight to 4-year colleges.

  2. Outstanding point.I totally agreed with this point.After reading the article i like to say –
    We’re at a crossroads, an important crossroads of how we view people. That’s why it’s possible now for all the different kind of therapies to go into education, education for being more fully human, using what we know as a pathology is only something that tells us that something is wrong and then allows us to move towards how we can we use this to develop round people. I’m fortunate in being one of the people who pushed my way through to know that people are really round. That’s what it means to me to look at people as people who have potential that can be realized, as people who can have dreams and have their dreams work out. What people bring to me in the guise of problems are their ways of living that keep them hampered and pathologically oriented. What we’re doing now is seeing how education allows us to move toward more joy, more reality, more connectedness, more accomplishment and more opportunities for people to grow.

  3. Totally true headline-and yet some schools (particularly in areas where ethnic composition is rapidly changing) resist assistance, taking the view that they have counseling “covered.” The staffers of the outside entity may have more time available per student, more breadth with respect to knowledge of colleges, and more depth of understanding of the first generation/higher education equation than do the harried counselors at the high school.

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