Donald Coverdale

PHENOMENAL NEWS (PN): You were a high school guidance counselor in East Boston. What did you see as the biggest obstacles to more students attending college?

Coverdale: Preparation and financial aid. As counselors, we spent a lot of time finding educational opportunities and financial aid for our students, especially first generation students. These are the children of post office workers, policemen, city and state workers. Counselors in the schools spend a lot of time piecing together scholarships from a lot different of sources. But we also have to make sure kids are applying to college in the first place. It’s not just money—it’s also about values and priorities and messages from families. There are lots of opportunities out there and many students and parents are just not aware of them. We need to play up our public colleges more. The public colleges have really tried to put in retention programs and support services—they are committed to urban first generation children.

PN: What do you think would help make college more accessible for these students?

Coverdale: A focus on achievement. We should guarantee access for students who achieve. Parents should know that if standards are successfully met, then the state would take care of them financially. We should start talking to parents in 3rd grade. The Adams scholarship is a joke since fees are not covered and they are so much more that tuition. Scholarships have to be real—don’t play games with us. The standards and the incentives have to be clear well ahead of time.

It would also be good for the state to work more in partnership with community agencies—to encourage tutoring in addition to sports. Students spend many hours at after school recreation programs. They should be more than just a babysitting service; they could provide academic support. Education is a continuous lifelong process….things always change….so we need to create a love for learning. Smart people can recover from whatever life throws at them. We’re in this together—parents, the community, the schools, the state.

PN: What organizations are you involved with?

Coverdale: I have been on the Board of the Massachusetts School Counselors Association (MASCA) representing urban counselors. This is MASCA’s 50th anniversary and I recently got an award for making a difference—for being a co-founder of the Urban Counselors Association. We encourage MASCA to discuss urban issues—very different from questions faced in the suburbs—such as financial aid and motivation. We are making inroads with the education dept. There was no money for guidance counselors in No Child Left Behind, but now in Race to the Top there are funds for counseling. We are working on a bill in Massachusetts that every elementary school should have a guidance counselor.

PN: What drew you to PHENOM?

Coverdale: I went to all state schools and so did my daughters so I always felt strongly about state schools. It’s unbelievable that Massachusetts is among the lowest in supporting higher education, and I was attracted to PHENOM because it fights to upgrade funding. I also really liked that PHENOM was advocating for free community college. But PHENOM has not yet captured the spirit of the grassroots: students and parents—everyone needs to know what PHENOM is doing. There are way too few people participating. Imagine if all the students and parents of our system were texting their Reps and Senators!

PN: Any final comments?

Coverdale: I am a preacher and I know that everyone has gifts–we just need to uncover and nurture them. Everyone needs encouragement and guidance towards a pathway to careers and colleges.۩