When I was assigned to write about National School Counseling Week (Feb. 4-8), naturally I thought of John Fitzpatrick.
He changed my life.
“Mr. Fitz” was the counselor at Tupper Lake High School. I had hung out with his daughters, and had even been to their house for fondue. (The first time it was the rage– back in the 1970′s). But seeing him at his job was another matter. As I began my senior year, I was unfocused. I had put a lot my energy into ski team, working, going out, trying not to get grounded, and teen angst. I was taking a lot of detours. I’d lost sight of the hazy goals and dreams I’d had at one time.
It was Mr. Fitz who drew those dreams back out. Early in the year, he called me in his office and asked me about my college plans. I wasn’t sure. He spent several sessions talking with me about what I liked to do (read and write), what I was good at, what kind of college I could afford (two year state school), and what kind of major would fit my goals. He reminded me of where my best grades were earned. (English). He found a two-year college (SUNY Morrisville) that offered a journalism degree. That program, he said, would teach me how to write for newspapers and magazines. Since it was the days before the internet, he showed me the college catalogue and what kind of courses I’d be taking.
He helped me with the application, and I got in. SUNY Morrisville was a college that fit me and shaped me, and provided me with a degree in journalism. I worked on the college newspaper. My first paid newspaper job started the day after I graduated, and I’ve earned my living as a writer ever since. A decade later, I was able to return to college and earn my bachelor’s and my master’s degree a the University at Albany.
It all started with Mr. Fitz.
Today, the work of school counselors has expanded, and now there are counselors in elementary schools, working with students on test-taking skills, conflict resolution, character values and early identification and intervention of academic, personal and social needs.School counselors work with teachers and parents. They help older students explore career paths. They are a resource for academic or personal needs. They help students with high-stakes testing, today’s far more complex process of college admissions, scholarship and financial aid applications, or how to get into a competitive job market. Today’s secondary school counselors are trained with a mental health perspective.
To acknowledge the counselor in your school, you can order door hangers, stickers, bookmarks and posters from the American School Counselor Association. Or you can send a thank-you card, e-mail, or make a phone call to that school counselor who helped you along the way. It’s good to thank the Mr. Fitz’s of the world.