For Aliea Coston ’21, head counselor at Sierra High School in San Bernardino, there isn’t a typical workday. New students arrive at the alternative school every six weeks in need of a spectrum of support services.
“The school counseling profession has evolved into a more holistic approach to serving students,” she says. “We provide academic, social-emotional, college, and career support because all of those areas are needed for students to be able to succeed.”
Coston and her three colleagues work with students one-on-one and in group settings, determining class schedules, facilitating counseling groups, hosting classroom lessons, and providing mental health support. Recently, she, her team, and school were recognized nationally by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) with a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) award for using data to inform their practices and implementing a comprehensive school counseling program.
“It feels amazing to be recognized for the work we had been doing,” says Coston, who is also in the final stages of completing a doctoral degree in Leadership for Educational Justice at the University of Redlands School of Education. “Sometimes alternative schools don’t receive the same focus as traditional schools, and the RAMP award showed us that our counseling program and how we’re serving our students are on the right track.”
In order to receive the award, school counselors must use school, district, and subgroup data to determine the needs of students and how those needs will be met. This approach naturally facilitates growth, because changes in data directly reflect progress in students’ lives while constantly revealing new areas for improvement.
For Coston, the award also felt like a personal achievement—she decided to pursue a doctoral degree out of a strong desire to find out alternative how schools could serve their students better. After working as a counselor for 15 years, she has witnessed students struggle to earn high school diplomas, and she wanted to investigate the myriad of barriers that prevent them from succeeding. Her dissertation focuses on the impact of campus support services, a topic directly applicable to her work in schools and students’ experiences.
Because she constantly endeavors to be an advocate for underserved student populations, the School of Education’s emphasis on social justice aligned with Coston’s goals. She has enjoyed learning from like-minded professionals in her cohort and takes comfort in knowing that the educational system will be impacted in countless ways as she and her classmates implement what they’ve learned.
Coston initially entered the counseling profession because she wanted to help others and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. After completing her degree, she plans to welcome more opportunities to lead and teach in addition to supporting students because, for her, it’s all about witnessing their success.
“I see students come in who are hopeless about their situations, or uninterested, or lost,” she says. “There’s no greater reward than being able to work with them through the good, bad, and ugly and getting to see them walk across the stage at graduation. Being able to contribute to that growth is why I’m a counselor.”
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