Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized as a featured counselor?
Kahadija Oliver Baker
Position: School counselor
School: Jones County High School
City: Gray, Ga.
“I want to be the high school counselor that I did not have. I show students that I am not that far removed and understand academic, family, and personal struggles.” Unfortunately, the lack of connection between school counselors and their students is a reality of the job. Many times, younger generations feel as though no adult has the ability to relate. However, Kahadija Oliver Baker, of Jones County High School in Georgia, hopes to change all of that. “I am an advocate for all students and will speak on their behalf,” she says. “I love being a high school counselor and truly feel I have found my calling.”
Specifically, Baker tries her hardest to help her students become who they want to be. For example, she managed to help a student in a strained family situation get out of the house and pay for college on her own. The student “was sent to live with her alcoholic father and slept on the floor of his home.
He had no interest in helping her with college,” Baker describes. Most students would have no way out of this position, but Baker refused to back down from the challenge. “I helped her by linking her with the college’s financial aid office and writing a letter on her behalf to be considered as an independent student,” she recalls. Baker’s willingness to stick her neck out for her students is just the help they need to meet their goals.
Most counselors would be proud and satisfied by this amount of work, but Baker is not most counselors. She always has more and more tasks on her to-do list. “My professional goal is to increase minority participation in dual enrollment opportunities,” she declares. Baker is the person at Jones County High who stops at nothing to deliver for her students. Whether it is building anticipation for a college and career fair, organizing a financial aid night, or helping individual students with personal problems, Baker never gives less than her all.
Position: School counselor
School: Sonora High School
City: Sonora, Calif.
As most school counselors can tell you, an occupational hazard of the job is burnout. These educators are responsible for helping students deal with academic, emotional and personal issues. It is impressive when school counselors manage all this and more with a smile. Stacy Kroeze, of Sonora High School in California, has dealt with numerous budget setbacks in recent years. As colleague and nominator Pam Christ explains, these cuts “have left our counseling department shorthanded in the past several years” even when there has been “an increase in workload.” Despite all of these obstacles, Kroeze consistently has “an uplifting, pleasant attitude,” says Christ.
What’s even more remarkable is that Kroeze is the only full-time counselor at the small rural high school. Even when she is alone, she maintains her optimism throughout the setbacks and usual job responsibilities. She provides academic counseling to students, listens to the students’ varied problems, organizes college and financial aid nights, trains peer counselors, and even reaches out to the students she has not met yet. Recently, Kroeze “was key in the articulation of students from our feeder schools at an all-day function called ‘Wildcat Round-Up’,” Christ describes. “Incoming eigth graders are invited to a day on campus consisting of testing, learning about, and being entertained by various groups here at Sonora High.”
It seems that student happiness and recognition is of special concern for Kroeze. She is involved with scholarship awards, academic awards, anti-bullying campaigns, and a girls’ positive self-esteem group. Even though her career demands the majority of her time and Kroeze has been forced to take on more professional duties, she always makes time to reward and help her students in any of their endeavors. Christ sums up Kroeze’s effect best: “She approaches each student with a smile and a positive attitude and it’s evident that the students genuinely like and have great respect for her.” It seems that Kroeze’s love for her job is, in fact, contagious. Her commitment to her students at any cost is inspiring and “she makes me love my job,” Christ exclaims.
Position: School counselor
School: Eagle Pass High School
City: Eagle Pass, Texas
“If somebody knows the ropes of career planning and college entrance, it is Sifuentes,” says colleague and nominator Dora Cumpian. And it is easy to see why she says that. Luis Sifuentes, of Eagle Pass High School in Texas, has already had numerous experiences in school counseling. “He started as a CATE (career and technical education) counselor,” Cumpian explains, “then he became a college advisor, and later brought all of that experience to help all of us counselors.”
Sifuentes has taken those former professional experiences and used them to benefit his students and staff. He is the counselor in charge of creating opportunities and programs for students and parents. These include college and career nights, parental involvement meetings, college fairs, FAFSA nights, and checking in with seniors about their college entrance process. “There is nothing that he can’t figure out,” Dora Cumpian says. “He is resourceful and helpful every step of the way.”
If Sifuentes puts this much effort into his job and his students’ futures, he expects that much effort back from them. “He is helpful and demanding with great expectations,” Cumpian says. Sifuentes always uses his professional expertise to help whenever he can, but he is aware that the students and fellow staff members must be a part of the give-and-take. In other words, he doles out the information and advice, but the community around him must be willing to learn and to work.
That being said, he is always willing to show the way. “He leads by example using his experience to help as many students as possible,” Cumpian describes. “When you help a counselor, you help all the students.” Cumpian makes an excellent point about the nature of the school counseling field. It is excellent to use your skills for the students’ benefit, but it is even more effective to use the skills with the counselors. Because of Sifuentes, the entire Eagle Pass High counseling department is able to do their part and see that the students find their purpose and passion.
Position: School counselor
School: New Britain High School
City: New Britain, Ct.
A dedicated counselor is a valuable resource for students in an urban community who are in need of direction. DeJesus works tirelessly to provide guidance and mentorship to these students at New Britain High School. According to colleague and mentor Eric Sheffield, “Eddie DeJesus is the face of community service at NBHS and has been a mentor, leader, and role model for so many underserved students.”
Sheffield calls out the “MAN UP” male mentoring program created by DeJesus as just one example of this. The program is designed to guide teenage boys through the transition into becoming responsible young men — it teaches leadership, discipline, character, integrity, and respect for oneself and others. Many resources are available to the members of the MAN UP program, including mentors from the local University, group counseling, and gym workouts, all of which are aimed at empowering students to make good choices. According to Sheffield, the change which MAN UP has incited in many NBHS students is evident. “You can see MAN UP young men walking the halls dressed in their Sunday best. Students take pride in their participation.”
The MAN UP program is just a small piece of the work that DeJesus does at NBHS. He also works with college-bound students and their parents, holding college preparatory meetings during the evenings and on Saturdays so that they don’t interfere with work schedules. He even keeps in touch with students after graduation, helping them to secure interviews and jobs that align with their future career plans. Sheffield describes him as “the go-to guy for both students and staff.”
Others might suffer from burnout after working so hard, but not DeJesus. According to Sheffield, “He does it all, and his perfect attendance record for over 10 years is a testament to that. DeJesus exemplifies pure dedication in his job as a school counselor at New Britain High School, going above and beyond at every step.”