Interview with Rebekah Ward
Middle School Counselor at Lincoln Middle School, Michigan.
What inspired you to become a school counselor?
I was inspired to become a school counselor because it just felt like that’s where my role in education was taking me. I had been in the classroom for about 10 years. I had already gotten a Masters in curriculum because I thought that’s what I wanted to do more of but what ended up happening was that the kids always came and told me stuff that I didn’t need to know, but I still listened to them. It seemed like there was this natural pull where they were comfortable with me. It started to not be as fun in the classroom because I wanted to know more about what was going on with students, not so much to teach my content that day. So I really wanted to move in a different direction where I could learn much more about the kids and help them in a different way. In this role I am able to deal more with the families, as well get to know the backstory of why a student is the way they are, and be able to relay that to the staff. This way they understand the whole child more than just the person they see in front of them and I can serve as a bridge and safe space. That was my draw, I just wanted to be that person who knows that the kid in front of me may not have help at home and I can be that person that provides support.
What is one thing that you would tell your younger student self now?
I would tell myself it’s going to be OK. I would tell myself it’s OK that you’re quiet and different. just wait until you’re able to get out there and experience the world. If you feel a pull to try new things, even if mom and grandma don’t want you to, try them! I was definitely a goody goody and never wanted to disappoint anybody. I stayed close to home for college and now looking back I probably should have gone further away. I could have spread my wings a little bit more. Now, I’ve grown into who I am but back then I was just too afraid. Maybe even tell my younger self to look at other things. There are so many other things that could be of interest, you don’t have to be on this path as long as you were.
If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and/or high school counselor, what would you tell them?
I wish that I could tell them that I want to know who they are. I can tell you that we had two of them in junior high. I can tell you their names, but I’ve never talked to them and I don’t know what they did in junior high. In high school, I knew who ours were but I never talked to them. They never went out of their way to come talk to us. I had no idea what their purpose was. I would love to go back and tell them, “can you just let us know why you’re here? How can we utilize you and your skills/knowledge?” There were so many other people I know, including myself, who could have benefited from them, but we didn’t have a clue. At that time, I’d really loved to have learned what is their purpose because we really didn’t know
How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?
In middle school, it’s hard because they’re not going to college anytime soon. So here, my goal is to really introduce the lingo and to let them know that college doesn’t just mean the college up the road but that there’s other options. Also introducing FAFSA and various other concept students and parents will need to know. Even if students are 11 years old, their parents and the students themselves can start to hear about these concepts. As these students continue through the next few years here with me, they’re exploring different types of careers. And not just ones that you normally think of! I always say I don’t want to keep talking about doctors and lawyers. We need to look at various other fields. Do students know what a mason is? No, ok then let’s talk about a mason. If a student wants to go into the medical field, do they know what a respiratory therapist is? Do they know what a surgical tech is?
Also, it is important to expose students to individuals in those fields that look like them. At my school, we have about a 60/40 split between Caucasian and African American students, so I try to reach out to former students that are in those fields. I want students to feel like, “you look just like me, you were in this same classroom, you came from my same neighborhood and now you are where you are…I can do it too.” We have done explorations on HBCUs and various college options, as well. Our goal is to begin that exploration and provide lots of information. We are also trying to be very representative of our population.
Tell us about your advocacy project.
I’m looking at K-5 career and college awareness. Like many districts, we have no elementary counselors. We have three elementary buildings, and I talked to all three principals about next year working with 4th and 5th grade teachers on college and career awareness exploration type lessons that are already embedded in their Common Core. We can work with staff on what their curriculum looks like and how we can fit more in so we’re not forcing teachers to do more work but rather reworking what they already have. Instead of doing career fairs like they always have, changing those up so it’s not always only “Johnny’s dad” who’s a doctor or “Susie’s mom” who’s a nurse. We can bring back former students so that they see somebody that they can relate to, perhaps someone younger that might just be out of college so they’re a little bit closer in age. I recognize that elementary teachers are so strapped for time, I don’t want them to have to do more. So how can we fit that into their current curriculum without having them do more work. I know one of our buildings has to have mandatory parent meetings. Introducing different college and career topics into these meetings will help parents and staff. Also during state testing in the last few weeks of school, teachers need filler classroom lessons. This is a great opportunity to try some college and career topics.