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Japanese researchers study Gordon Russells counseling program

by: Carole Archer, Naomi Yabe, assistant and interpreter, right, waves goodbye to Eric Pohl’s eighth grade humanities class Friday, Oct. 6, at Gordon Russell Middle School. On the left is Satoko Tatsumi, chief education researcher for the Works Institute in Tokyo. Gordon Russell eighth-grader Chuchi Xiong, 13, center who speaks five languages helped lead the tour.

Satoko Tatsumi leaned back, fully clad in black with thick-rimmed glasses, as she spoke between bites in the teacher's lounge. A visiting career researcher hired by Japan's Department of Education, Tatsumi visited Gordon Russell Middle School Friday, Oct. 6, to study Oregon's unique career counseling program in action.

Tatsumi, the chief researcher for career education at Works Institute, a corporate-based institution to research employment and labor policy in Japan, chose six schools around the Portland area.

'We are here to collaborate between school and counselors,' Tatsumi said.

Works Institute first heard about Oregon's program during a school counseling seminar for Japanese educators led by Norm Gysbers, a leader in school guidance programs from Missouri, said Linda Eby, a Gordon Russell counselor.

Oregon stood out due to its comprehensive guidance and counseling framework, published in 2003, which unites academic achievement, personal and social skill building, career orientation and community involvement.

'Schools never had a framework to work from,' Eby said. 'They came in with a combination of what the school district and counselors thought were right but now it will be the same across the board. We can look at how we are doing consistently for K-12.'

In Gresham there is a school counselor in every school, including elementary schools.

Tatsumi wanted to study the affect counselors have in facilitating career building skills while also inhibiting school fighting.

In Japan, a student's career options are largely based on their test scores. Japanese corporations are recognizing a need for career development at all school levels.

Japan began its own career education program two years ago, hiring clinical psychologists to be school counselors.

It was expected that psychologists would orient themselves into the school environment and advance career skill building while developing social and academic skills and quelling any violence.

The program has fallen short of expectations.

'But (the psychologists) didn't have education for (teaching in) schools, only education,' Tatsumi said. 'They don't have information about how to study (the students) so they need someone from the outside, career counselors.'

In the coming year, Tatsumi plans to develop a career curriculum for counselors in 100 Japanese high schools as a trial. She said she hopes eventually to use retired business people as counselors in what she called 'a real career program.'

But Naomi Yabe, assistant and translator to Tatsumi, seemed apprehensive.

Home-room teachers in Japan are more responsible for the actions of their students in and out of the classroom than in the United States, said Eric Neiwert, a Gordon Russell teacher and technology coordinator who has been a leader for the Japanese student exchanges between Gordon Russell and schools in Japan for several years.

He said that intimacy might be threatened if goal-oriented business people are to take the place of counselors in a school environment.

School counselors are very helpful, Yabe said, because they can care about children, but career counselors are more focused on helping them with their future work-related goals.

Neiwert then asked if school employees, especially school boards, are resistant to inviting career counselors into a place of elemental learning.

'Teachers are anxious,' Yabe said, translating for Tatsumi. 'And the district board is cautious.'