Senior counselor says good-bye to her first class
When the class of 2004 graduates this Saturday, Sarah Jamieson will be among the first in line to congratulate them.
Jamieson was hired as a guidance counselor at Hudson High School in the fall of 2000 for the incoming freshman class. It was her first job after graduating from UW-Platteville. She recalls the group of almost 350 as being "very bubbly overall" with all the typical problems one could expect at that age.
"I saw a lot of kids who were worried about how to fit in, who liked who and all kinds of problems like that." But as the years have gone on, she has seen these same students get more serious about their lives both at HHS and beyond. The time for both the counselor and her students "has just flown by."
At HHS, guidance counselors are assigned to a freshman class and maintain that assignment through the students' graduation. In addition to the day-to-day problems she handles with students, she also monitors their class schedules to be certain they are on track for graduation and helps them with post-secondary education planning.
But Jamieson says her most important role with the class of 2004 is to be there to listen. "They know that there is a person in the building they can talk to about anything. And when they are just getting started, I'm just somebody they can say "hi" to in the hall. I eventually have a one-to-one with all of them, and some I get to know better than others, but over the four years we all get to know each other."
Jamieson said she has dealt with parents less as the students have gotten older. "Initially there is more contact because there are more questions and adjustments to make. And I always try to let them know that they can call and ask questions whenever they have a concern. And I hear more from those parents who are sending their first child off to college. There are lots of questions the first time that comes up."
Jamieson said the pressure on students she works with can be daunting. "They balance so much in their lives - their classes, the need to get good grades, jobs, keeping up with the kid next door, a boyfriend or girlfriend and getting along with their parents. These are all things we have experienced and lived through, but to them, right now, they are huge and can seem overwhelming."
Jamieson said she tries to help students understand the difference between things they can control and things they can't and things they just need to let go.
"We talk about coping mechanisms and learning the difference between things they need and things they want. It is different with every student. Some can learn this from their parents, others have a difficult time reaching out to adults. And some kids just have a hard time accepting that they can't control it all. There's only one way to do high school and all that goes with it. You have to go through. We can be there to help and support but in the end it is really up to them."
Jamieson said that is the biggest challenge in her job - finding the balance between helping and then letting go.
Jamieson said students graduating this year are facing challenges their parents didn't necessarily have. "Even 10 years ago, graduates could kind of assume that they wouldn't have trouble getting into the college they wanted and that their class rank wouldn't be so important. But that's all changed. A lot of kids find out they can't get into the school they want or the one their parents wanted, and everybody is disappointed."
Jamieson said that's why it is so important to start talking to students about their post-secondary plans early in their high school years even though it may add to the pressures they are already experiencing.
Jamieson said she wishes more students would consider two-year community college programs as an option upon graduation.
"I think so many kids could benefit from an experience like that. They get a few years under their belt and then transfer to a four-year school. So many kids are uncertain of what they want when they graduate, and this could be a time to really sort some of that out."
Jamieson also cautions parents of graduates to be prepared for the adjustment all students go through when they leave high school and go on to college or some other option.
"They all kind of assume they are going to love college and being more on their own. But it can be a difficult adjustment. They are away from you, meeting all new people, making new friends, far from home. That's a lot to deal with, and often it takes at least a year for them to adjust. Some of them may want to quit, but they should be encouraged to stick it out. Whatever the case, keep talking with them about what they are feeling, and in the end that will empower them to stand up for themselves."
Jamieson said she has loved working with the class of 2004 and will miss them. "It isn't a chance everybody gets - to really get to know a group of kids and watch them grow up and move on." But for Jamieson, the process begins all over again in September as she takes on the class of 2008.
Meg Heaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.