Ashley Cullen-Williams

Ashley Cullen-Williams

“When I worked in Waukegan, counselors were only at the middle and high school levels.”

“The American School Counselor Association recommends a social work caseload of 250 students per one school counselor. The social work caseload in Waukegan schools is twice if not more due to their responsibility and need to serve students with Individualized Education Plans. I believe there are six or seven social workers assigned to the high school, with 4,500-plus students. If all students needed support, which they do, the social work caseload would be 750-to-1.”

“Students need more support at all levels on a consistent basis. That is why funding and funding allocation is important. Students need and deserve daily support throughout their entire educational career regardless of the neighborhood, race or gender.”

“Let’s get them connected versus just letting them go. The policy for too long has just been, ‘Let the kids go.’ The ownership just fell on the student and their homelife.”

“We have to move past the judgment, looking at the data, ask ‘why’ questions, followed by providing realistic solutions and resources that promote wellness, connection and sustainability.”

“Waukegan isn’t a poor district, but how much of the funds are directly impacting, supporting, and engaging students in the classroom and their postsecondary success? ”

“A lot of funding gets diverted or allocated to other things before students’ immediate needs are considered. Students need to be well in order to excel at life. Students need access to supportive environments, quality connections and college and career opportunities.”

“High school should be a stepping stone to success, not a roadblock. Yet, the funding isn’t allocated to support students, and their academic marks suffer as a result.”

“Per the 2020 Illinois Report Card: [Waukegan High School] has a 77% graduation rate and 71% [of freshmen are on track to graduate on time] …. These datapoints highlight the 25-plus percent of students who either get lost, pushed out, or delayed in the school system. These students need additional support and culturally-relevant interventions to feel a sense of belonging and achieve success in and outside of Waukegan Public Schools.”

“At their July 15 board meeting, a proposal asked to approve an outside counseling resource for $931,616 to support high school students, yet almost 75% of the approved funding paid for salaries and benefits for individuals not from Waukegan.”

“The district has great people with genuine intentions and authentic conversations who should be put in positions to empower, educate and support the whole student. Wellness and sustainability are not priorities, and this is apparent in their budgeting.”

“Work became an extension of my home. I treated the kids like my own and noticed all of their little quirks.“

“Two months in I made note that a lot of our students were coming in hungry and dysregulated. They didn’t have a meal the night before, or they didn’t have breakfast. So I applied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to my students and started an early snack program to provide for their physiological needs.”

“Every weekend my family and I would bag up cereal, granola bars, pastries and fruit snacks to keep in my office. Eventually I gained the privilege of being called, ‘Mrs. Snacks’ and became a consistent, trusted part of their support system”

“The whole student needs to be supported and funded in order to see growth. We have to acknowledge, accept, and highlight their culture and ways their education can further push their community forward. We can’t just focus on if they’re behaving well or if they score high on the SAT. That doesn’t matter if their basic needs aren’t being met and those skills can’t translate over to real, tangible possibilities.”

“In education and counseling, you sacrifice a lot of time and energy, and it can be lonely work but they’re worth it. A lot of times, they just want somebody to just stand in the dirt with them. Someone to just feel it with them real quick, and then give them some tools on how to process feelings.”

“They’re worth every minute of the candy bags, packing up the cereal, the tough conversations about culture, spirituality, financial literacy, sexuality and success. They’re worth all of it.”

Ashley Cullen-Williams
Grant manager
Waukegan, Illinois

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