A Guide to Guidance

The guidance department knows everything about us, but what do we really know about them? This is a look into the guidance department at Stuyvesant.

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As Stuyvesant students, we all have problems. Whether they be personal, academic, or due to bad ravioli we ate last night, we often have to lug more than just our bookbags up the stairs.

That’s where guidance counselors come in. They’re an integral part of Stuyvesant; they present in classrooms, set up organization days and workshops, process our program changes, and write college letters, all while offering a listening ear to anyone who needs one. Their work also involves communicating with parents, teachers and students.

Despite being a relatively niche job, a guidance counselor never has a boring life. Counselor Joseph Feola loves that every meeting he has is unique and varies based on the the individual with whom he is talking. At the same time, he realizes that students have similar problems and many of their experiences overlap. This is one of the main reasons that Feola runs “groups,” which are sessions of six to eight students who are called in to have a meeting. “I think that sometimes being able to share your experiences with other students who are going through something similar is super awesome. It can help people to know that they aren’t alone in their experience and to […] troubleshoot with each other,” he explained. Feola loves to hold these sessions not only to allow himself to reach more students, but also to facilitate a sort of peer-counseling.

“Teenagers are teenagers, and while the issues might be a little different, a lot of them are universal,” counselor Sarah Kornhauser added on. She noticed that common issues that students come to her with include feelings of anxiety, stress, pressure, and disappointment and questions about college.

Of course, becoming a guidance counselor isn’t a decision that one just makes overnight. For counselor Gregg Walkes, he was led to the profession based on his long-time interest in education. Though becoming a classroom teacher was a possibility, Walkes ultimately decided to become a counselor. “I have found out about myself that I am a small group [or] individual conversation type of person,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “My personality is better suited for this as opposed to teaching in a classroom with 30 [or more] students.”

Counselor Paul Goldsman had a similar introduction to counseling: “I've been a camp counselor, tutor, baseball and basketball coach my whole life, [...] so [guidance] just seemed like a natural career for me.”

Like any job, being a guidance counselor has its perks and drawbacks. One perk of counseling is its spontaneity. Each day brings new surprises, and for Goldsman, that is the best part of his job. He described, “I love that every day is unpredictable. I'm never bored. I’m excited to come to work, and I look forward to helping kids with any of their problems and sometimes teachers as well.”

Feola shared the same sentiment, saying, “I love that no day looks exactly the same. I love that I might plan out my day and something will happen: a student will need me, and I need to quickly think on my feet and rearrange what it is I’m doing.”

It can be hard, however, to try and find a solution to everyone’s concerns, especially in a school with nearly 4,000 students. Counselor Sandra Brandan explained, “You can't please everyone. There are times when I don't have the answer, or I cannot give someone something they need. That's the most difficult time.”

Kornhauser added on to this idea, saying, “I think my role is to offer support and care in guidance, and some students, when they’re having a hard time, avoid the care and guidance. And students are allowed to choose how they want to use me or not use me, but I think the hardest part for me would just be watching them struggle and stray away from help.”

When asked if they had any advice to give to students, Brandan suggested, particularly for freshmen: “Please utilize your school counselor. And get to know them. Because when we know who you are, we know how to best plan for you.”

Walkes emphasized, “If you find yourself really struggling a great deal with something, reach out to us; we want to help.”

But the guidance counselors are not only there to sort through problems. “Come, share good news. I love [it] when kids come in and share their news. Even if they just got a haircut or a new pair of shoes. That brightens up my day!” Brandan exclaimed.

“A common stigma around guidance is that students only see their counselors for bad things,” Kornhauser added on. “You do not need a crisis to build a relationship with your guidance counselor. We invite you in here if you just want to maybe chat or tell us what’s going on.”

This aspect of the job—building relationships with students—is one of the most fulfilling and meaningful parts of being a guidance counselor. “I think the position itself is the coolest job in the world. You make a living off of supporting young people and their goals. What else would you want to spend all of your time doing? It's just really fantastic,” Feola said.

His sentiment is echoed by all the counselors. Kornhauser too reflected, “I like helping young people be powerful. I think it’s really important for young people to believe in the future and be set on the right foot. I think that they absolutely are change makers, and I love to be a part of it.”