ORLANDO — Michelle Obama believes school counselors play a vital role in the American education system.
The first lady wants to do her part to help them have an even bigger impact, and is promoting new initiatives she hopes will assist them.
President Barack Obama has set a goal for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Speaking at the American School Counselor Association convention Tuesday in Orlando, the first lady said the goal is attainable, but only with help.
"We simply cannot achieve this goal unless you all have what you need to do your jobs," she told a cheering crowd of 2,100 attendees.
She called counselors the link to high education for many high school students, adding they are "the ones planting the seeds about college as early as elementary and middle school."
Only 80 percent of public schools have access to counselors, according to the Department of Education.
To aid those efforts Obama announced three new endeavors to support and recognize the work that counselors are doing nationally.
First, the White House will partner with ASCA, Harvard and others later this month to host an event on school counseling.
In addition, she also touted a mention for counselors that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made Monday when he released his guidance to the nation's superintendents and principals. It called on those administrators to set aside money in their budgets to create professional development opportunities specifically for school counseling.
And beginning in 2015, along with honoring the national teacher of the year, the White House will also honor its first school counselor of the year as well.
"My husband and I think it's time that we started giving our school counselors the recognition that you all deserve for the work that you do," Obama said.
Linda Gaitor, a counselor at Hialeah Middle School, has worked in South Florida as a counselor more than 30 years. She said she was encouraged by the spotlight that's being put on their work.
The Department of Education's numbers put the national average ratio at 471 students to every one counselor in public schools. ASCA recommends that figure be 250 to 1.