The first full week in February marks National School Counseling Week. We chatted with members of our expert college and career counseling team at BVP High School, Ashley Gemma and Lorena Arango, to learn more about their insights around student-centered college and career counseling and best practices in supporting the family decision about the path for their scholar after their high school journey.
L to R: Ashley Gemma, BVPHS Graduate Lianne Aguilar, Lorena Arango, Director of College & Careers David Jose
Describe your role at BVP and your professional background.
AG: I graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2015. From there, I found my way into advising work and have been here ever since! I have worked in college access for more than seven years. In 2017, I was hired by the College Advising Corps, an AmeriCorps position at Brown University. The College Advising Corps focused on increasing access to college for first-generation, low-income students. I was placed at Blackstone Valley Prep High School to assist with its first graduating class, and, after two years, I found a permanent home at BVP.
LA: I began my journey in advising in 2011 as the High School Advisor at Central High School in Providence, Rhode Island, through The College Crusade of RI (now Onward We Learn), a CBO that works primarily with first-generation, low-income students/families. I was a part of this CBO growing up and received scholarships to further my education after high school. Being an advisor for this organization later on in life was a full-circle moment for me. I have been at BVP since May 2016.
How would you say the idea of college and career counseling has changed in the last 10-20 years?
AG & LA: The college landscape has become more competitive as more students are applying to school. Colleges are taking a more holistic approach, and we encourage students to start gaining internship and work experience early on. Colleges want well-rounded, community-oriented, engaged students to add to their campuses, and BVP students are doing a great job exploring their interests outside of our community. What we have seen stay the same is that GPA still matters. Grades matter. First and foremost, colleges are looking for scholars who are engaging with their schoolwork, and remaining focused on learning.
As the cost of college has increased exponentially, we have also seen students become more aware of the dangers of taking on too much college debt. Our financial aid conversations in the spring with seniors and families are robust, and students understand that the affordability of college is just as important as the “name” of a school.
Why is it important to counsel and approach each student individually?
AG & LA: Every student has a unique pathway. All of our conversations are student-centered and focused. Students know themselves best, and, as a team, it is our philosophy to listen to the individual needs of our scholars and meet them wherever they are in the process. Our students come from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, and, in our office, we want to celebrate students’ life experiences just as much as their school experiences. At the end of the day, we want to see that every student has a pathway to their own success, and that success has to be defined by the student first.
What do you enjoy most about being a member of the BVP team?
AG: In the last seven years of working together, our team has experienced highs and lows, but we all remain focused on the same goal. Each member of the College and Career team brings something different to the table, and our strengths and weaknesses work well together. Lorena and David Jose, Director of College and Careers, are my mentors and have taught me invaluable lessons over the years.
LA: Growing up in Central Falls, it seemed like everyone knew everyone. In my current role as a College and Career Counselor, I constantly come across families I grew up with, went to high school with, or knew someone they knew as well. It is a privilege to be able to assist those same families with their child’s next step after high school. I am also lucky enough to work alongside two people who are my coworkers and also some of my closest friends. The three of us work so well with one another and balance each other out; I could not imagine doing this work without them.
At what age should students start having conversations about their college/career path?
AG & LA: At BVPHS, we start having “the college conversation” as early as freshman year. But, more importantly than keeping the conversation focused on “college,” we focus more on the whole student. Who do you want to be? What brings you energy? What gives you purpose? Often, these are the most important conversations because they allow students to explore who they are as individuals rather than feeling like they have to fit into one specific mold or pathway. Every student brings something to the table, and their individual voice and perspectives should be celebrated!
What advice would you give to parents with respect to their child’s college/career journey and planning?
AG & LA: Patience. To be patient with their child as they discover themselves and their true passions. Teenagers very seldomly know what they want to do as a career for the rest of their lives, and that is okay. They need time and grace to figure things out.
We would also tell parents that different steps can be taken to achieve the goal of becoming a college graduate one day. The cost of college is increasing by the day, and in our office we always say it is a family decision what that next step is. College debt can be a necessary evil, but it can also be minimized as much as possible. A balanced college list is imperative in order to be able to compare the costs and weigh the options.