“If you don’t try it, then how do you know if you’re going to like it or not?” We have all been asked this question, at one time or another, usually in an attempt to get us to try some unappetizing new food. For first-year guidance counselor, Regina Harley, the question has a deeper, more resonant meaning.
If You Want It, the Impossible
Kids spend most of their time at school, but they need their parents’ guidance as well.
What Mrs. Harley is trying to get the students of Meridian to try is nothing less than the whole, great big, wide world beyond Pulaski County. Because they might find that they like it.
Although this is Regina’s first year as guidance counselor at Meridian, she is not an unfamiliar face, having previously served as the registrar and as assistant counselor before settling into her new role. Not having to take time to familiarize herself with the school, Mrs. Harley was able to hit the ground running, and recently organized the school’s first college visit, to Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis. The visit was significant to her, because Harris-Stowe is among the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She has long been a proponent of HBCUs, and feels that although they are often underfunded, they have many benefits for students like those from Meridian. “I have always wanted to expose our students to HBCUs, and now that I’m the guidance counselor, I have the opportunity to do that,” she enthuses.
Mrs. Harley’s philosophy is that a cooperative relationship between counselors, students and their families, and the community at large is the best way to effectively guide future graduates along the path that is right for them. “Kids spend most of their time at school, but they need their parents’ guidance, as well,” she says. “We need to make our parents accountable for our students’ education.” Regina believes that a robust support system, made up of parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors is necessary to ensure that students have the best chance at finding a path that fits, and finding success on that path. The closeness of the Meridian community helps to foster this cooperative partnership. In a place where almost everyone is known to almost everyone else, a sense of familiarity and trust leads to a feeling of shared responsibility – Mrs. Harley takes seriously the responsibility of helping students achieve the best outcome for them, and families and students feel the responsibility of implementing the suggestions and following the guidance she gives. Nobody wants to let anybody down, and so everyone is a more active participant in the process.
Another important piece of the puzzle is early preparedness. She tries to impress upon freshmen the importance of maintaining a good GPA, so that as juniors, they are able to take college-level courses. And at the beginning of this school year, she organized a four-day mandatory Freshman Academy for new high school students. Topics such as finances, strategies for staying on track, and credit requirements for graduation were discussed during the first three days. On the last day, parents were invited in and were excited to hear from their students what they had learned. Mrs. Harley believes that events such as the Freshman Academy and visits to colleges and universities are vitally important, in that they can show families that they don’t have to settle for the comfortable and familiar local options. She hopes that they can begin to see that other, possibly better, options exist and are within their reach.
Regina knows that students are often reluctant to leave home to attend a school in an unfamiliar place, and that it can be daunting to leave behind everything you know and start out somewhere new. Doubts and fears are natural — What if I can’t do it? Who will be there to support me? But to Regina, “Anything is possible. If you want it, the impossible can happen. I always tell them that they need to think outside the box, and that they need to try new things.” After all, if you don’t try it, how do you know if you’re going to like it or not?