Member Spotlight

Dr. Erin Almond, KIPP Through College Program, Jacksonville (FL)

When Dr. Erin Almond started with KIPP Jacksonville in 2013, she spent a lot of time listening to students and parents to understand what was important to them in regard to their education beyond KIPP so that she could provide the best counseling and transition experience.

Dr. Almond’s work has evolved quite a bit since then. As the Director of KIPP Jacksonville’s KIPP Through College (KTC) program, Dr. Almond leads a team to support our recent alumni in high school, as well as our college-aged alumni, to ensure that they are equipped to pursue the paths they choose–college, career, and beyond.

Additionally, Dr. Almond manages college partnerships that enable KIPP to provide additional levels of support for students and looks forward to how the KIPP Jacksonville KTC program can expand.  This year as KIPP Jacksonville plans to open KIPP Bold City HIgh School, she and her team are working to plan ways to extend the runway for postsecondary access by providing targeted programming in 9th grade.

In addition to leading the KIPP Through College team, this year she worked closely with regional leadership to support equity initiatives, including helping to lead an equity team that was charged with creating an inclusive process to define the first KIPP Jacksonville Regional Equity Vision. Dr. Almond views this equity work as deeply important and necessary in ensuring that students have an experience at school where they are seen, valued, and affirmed.

Dr. Almond earned her Doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration in organizational leadership. Her dream is to be able to take this work and build strategic partnerships within the community to further college access for all students.

“I have a deep love and respect for our students and their families. I view our role as one that helps them to see the array of opportunities available, and helps them overcome obstacles that may prevent them from being able to pursue those opportunities.”

SACAC Member Spotlight on Kathryn Daniels

Kathryn Daniels, College Counselor, Hammond School (SC)

How did you get started in School Counseling?

I knew I wanted to be a College Counselor from a fairly young age, which I have learned is pretty rare! I first considered it when I went through the college application process myself, as I had a wonderful College Counselor and thought, “Her job seems really cool.” However, I went off to college planning to be a high school English teacher. After one semester, though, I realized the classroom wasn’t my calling, and that I wanted to work with and support students in another realm. That’s when I revisited the idea of College Counseling and reached out to College Counselors I knew to find out more. I was even able to intern in a College Counseling office during my senior year at Vanderbilt, which really solidified that it was the right path for me! So, I made a plan: go to graduate school for Higher Education/Student Affairs and begin working in admissions, be an Admissions Counselor at few different colleges to gain experience, and then switch over to “the other side of the desk.” Miraculously, things worked out according to plan!

What was the transition like from College Admissions to High School Counseling

Because I had always wanted to eventually make the switch, it felt like a dream come true in so many ways. However, that doesn’t mean it was easy! The very first thing I realized is there is so much to learn, and you can never know everything. With thousands of colleges in the United States alone – each with their own personality, strengths, and nuances in the admissions process – the work of researching and educating myself is never done. However, that is something I truly love about this job!

How has SACAC played a role in your career?

SACAC has been an important resource to me since I was in graduate school. I took advantage of opportunities like the Drive-In Conference in South Carolina at that time, and it was an amazing way to connect with colleagues in the field and dip my toe in the waters before I began job-searching after graduation. Then, throughout my job searches, SACAC was invaluable.

One of the best experiences I have had with SACAC was participating in Summer Seminar in 2019. The guidance and resources from that experience, as well as the friendships and connections I made, are so valuable to me and were perfectly timed right at the beginning of my College Counseling journey. I highly recommend it to anyone who is new to College Counseling!

What is your best piece of advice for someone new to the profession?

My best advice would be to not be afraid to ask questions! I find that everyone in our profession is really willing to help out. From my Director who I pester with about a hundred questions a day, to my SACAC mentor, to colleagues at similar schools, I don’t ever feel alone in getting through tough situations or making big decisions. I love to utilize resources like the College Admissions Counselors Facebook group and several email listservs to crowdsource problems or gather advice. I’ve also learned to never be afraid to pick up the phone and talk through something with an Admissions Counselor! Nine times out of ten, they are happy you called and more than willing to help in any way they can.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I knew coming in that the relationships I would build with the students would be the best part, and I was right about that. Working with a student at this crucial, exciting time in their life, and being their advocate through the good and the bad is a special role. It’s also truly a joy to get to know all of these impressive young people and brag on them shamelessly to my colleagues on the other side of the desk! There is nothing more rewarding than getting to help a student find their best fit and go off to do great things in the world.

However, another thing I love about this job is that every day is different and there’s never a dull moment! Typically, I blink, and the day is over. I don’t do well in jobs where I feel bored, so the fast-paced nature and tendency to feel pulled in a lot of different directions is perfect for me.

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

I have been an avid reader my entire life, and I was an English major in college, so when I’m not working, I’m often found reading. My husband and I also love to travel, and New York City is one of my favorite places to visit because I’m an enormous musical theatre nerd. I have a five-year-old miniature bernedoodle, Fenny, and I spend a lot of time with her, or talking about her when I’m not with her. One more thing I have recently gotten into is jogging…I never would have believed it, but quarantine caused us all to do some crazy things, right?

First-Generation Experiences

Leri Argueta, Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment, University of North Georgia – Gainesville

Can you share a little bit about your journey as a first-generation Latino male through higher education? Who/what inspired you to work in higher education? What has been your experience working with students prior to higher ed? 

I always say that it is an honor to be a Latino in higher education since we are underrepresented in this field, especially in leadership roles like the one I am fortunate to have now. The journey has not been easy as I have had to battle a lot of issues systematically in this field that affect both students and staff. Often, I am put in places where I need to be vocal on issues that affect minoritized students since rarely do people look like our students in the spaces where the decision-making process happens. On the other side, it has also been one of the most rewarding professions that I have been blessed to have! With the headaches of the policies and comments made about minoritized students, the students themselves inspire and motivate me to keep pushing through! Being their champion in this field and giving back inspired me to work in higher education. Looking back at my experience, I had few student affairs professionals of color that helped me with my tough college career. To now be in this space and to be a guide for students that look like me means the world to me. I am Latinx, son of immigrants, first-generation, and from a very low-income community. I statistically am not supposed to be where I am today. Yet, here I am. To be in this position where I can assist with breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the number of underrepresented students that attend college, that is the dream. Before higher education, I worked in a non-profit for four years assisting first-generation college students in the state of Georgia. I worked with roughly 300 students during my time there.

Tell us about your first-generation programming/workshop efforts you put on for high school counseling offices and their students.  

Before COVID, we started a Shadowing Tour experience with some high school counselors that would identify first-generation students and bring them to our campuses. We would then pair up the student with a current University of North Georgia (UNG) student, and they got to experience college as “a day in the life of a UNG student.” We launched this program to show first-generation students what college was really like by attending classes and joining on-campus activities. Another program I started was partnering with a county’s academy specialist and a county-wide mentoring program in Georgia to facilitate virtual workshops such as “College like a Pro” and “College 101” with first-generation students from grades 8-12. High school counselors would promote it to their students, and I would cover various topics such as scholarships, 2-year vs 4-year degrees, and understanding financial aid. I also attend first-generation conferences and facilitate workshops for first-generation students at college fairs.

What are some effective outreach strategies that you use for counselors, students, families, etc.?

Honestly, everything. Text, call, email, and even making personal home visits. First-generation students will vary on their level of engagement and the type of communication they prefer. The key, I find, is that messaging has to be personal (not generic like “hey don’t forget x,y,x.” When the pandemic hit, we sent messages that said simply, “We know college is probably not a priority right now, but we are here for you.” Showing first-generation students that you care when you outreach, I find, tends to be the most effective way to get students to engage. Also, emailing and texting their parents too! They can help or nudge their children to respond and get ahead of the curve. We often think that our students live in a digital world; the truth is they do. However, first-generation students might need that personal and extra support from us. Last year alone I made 14 house visits assisting students with their FAFSA and college application (following COVID guidelines). I know it sounds like it is a lot of extra work; however, the relief students and families have when you do this  makes it worth it and reminds you why we do what we do.

Is there a difference in outreach to first-gen students/groups in metro areas vs. non-metro areas? 

Not sure to be honest. I typically find myself doing the same effort for metro areas vs non-metro areas. Since our state demographics are changing, I tend to see more first-generation students in metro areas engaged with outreach. However, from a recruitment side I try to always do the same amount of effort with outreach for all of Georgia since the barriers vary depending on where students live and the type of support they are receiving at home.

How do you build or use your own personal experience as a first-gen Latino male into your recruitment and programming practices?

I use my personal experience as a first-generation student to connect and relate to students and their families. While we might want to be quick and say “Why are they not doing what we are telling them to do?” I check myself a lot of times and ask myself “What was I thinking at this point of my high school career?” I also use my experience to reassure families and students that I know that the whole college application process is overwhelming. No one in my family helped me because my parents were not from the United States and never attended any form of schooling in their home country. It is a process that we have to explain and make sure we inform first-generation students and their families about since this will be their commitment for the next few years. We need to assist them with making sure they are prepared for it.

What has been your biggest win since offering first-gen programming at Georgia high schools?

One of my biggest wins was having a student come up to me after a first-generation college presentation at a high school (Pre-COVID) and hug me saying “Thank you for showing me that we can do it too.” I nearly cried because I talked about college admission, how to pick a college right for you, and my personal story at the end. I think my story resonated with her. I’m happy to report that she completed her first semester of college (at a different college) and is thriving!

What is your best piece of advice for high school counselors working with first-gen students?

Make things relatable, personable, and simple. While we may want our students to be able to figure things out quickly, first-generation students are not all at that same level. They have other external factors that may cause them to have road bumps along the way. Also, we need to be consistent with our outreach to make sure students know that we are here for them. Sending one email a month is not enough. We need to go the extra mile for our first-generation students.

Can you share any special opportunities for first-gen students at UNG or other University System of Georgia schools that high school counselors and students can look into?  

Yes! UNG offers a great mentoring program for first-generation students called Gen1 in which students get paired with faculty and staff who were also first-generation, and they receive personal mentorship! We also offer scholarships for first-generation students. Please contact me for more information regarding our programs.

What’s your favorite quote and how do you use it in your work?

My favorite quote is hands down from the Marianne Williamson poem “Our Deepest Fear.”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness

That most frightens us.”

I constantly remind myself as a first-generation professional and my first-generation students that we are capable of so many things if we believe in ourselves. I came along from that one-bedroom apartment that my mom, dad, brother, and I shared when I was a kid. Fear is not always negative; it is sometimes a call to awaken the lion you really are. What we are really capable of: that, to me, is what really frightens us.

When you finally get down time away from work, how do you like to spend your time?

When I am not working, I love to read and spend time with my family. I have a three-year-old daughter who is my world. I am striving to be the best father I can be for her since I come from a dysfunctional family.

My History with SACAC

Jonathan Ferrell, SACAC President, Director of College Counseling, Pace Academy (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing? 

I entered the profession as an admissions counselor at Centenary College, my undergraduate alma mater. While most people are excited about being accepted to law school, for me it caused great anxiety because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go in the first place, and not getting accepted would have made  my decision easy.  After a bit of soul searching I was convinced by the Director of Admissions at Centenary that I should “take a year,” work as an admission counselor, then decide what to do. That was 16 years ago! In that time I have worked on both sides of the desk, had the awesome privilege of being the team leader on both sides of the process, and have made so many lifelong friendships.  I think the thing I am most proud of accomplishing is earning my MBA.  Not so much because it’s another degree, but at the time I was in the program I was a full time student, a full time director of admission, and I was planning SACAC’s annual conference.  While I still don’t know how I did it, I was just so proud to have navigated all of those things at once.

As a professional and individual have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

I am going to redirect this answer a bit and describe a feeling that I feel more than the two you’ve asked about.  More specifically, I often feel heavy.  I’m going to paraphrase something that Maya Angelou said in a poem and it was this…though I come alone, I stand as ten thousand.  While everyone may understand those words, I think you’d have to be a leader who is often the “only” in a room to truly understand that, and the pressure and expectations it brings with it.

What are ways in which allies/accomplices in the field have/have not shown up for you? What do you wish you would see more of with respect to support from colleagues in this profession?

It has always frustrated and baffled me that in a profession that centers around education, many people continue to place the burden on those who are already burdened to teach those who need to learn. If accomplices educate themselves, there’s no way they can sit on the sidelines.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

While I am often exhausted, I do realize that I have a platform that comes along with an obligation to use my voice to speak truth.  While I am sometimes criticized for not speaking loudly enough, I don’t believe that being the loudest equals being the most impactful. What continues to affirm my passion are the many offline conversations I have with a diverse group of students and professionals day in and day out.

What are things you hope to accomplish in the future professionally or personally? 

In some ways I’ve stopped focusing so much on the future.  What I really strive to do is to be fully present in the present.  My hope is that learning to do that really well will continue to push me toward my more authentic self each day.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Silence isn’t always the best policy.  I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve walked into my office the day after an unarmed black person was shot and none of my white colleagues said a word to me about it.  I know that it’s often because they didn’t know what to say, but silence isn’t always being supportive to our colleagues.  I try and serve ALL of my students by always making sure they know that I see them and that I am always available to listen and hear them.

My History with SACAC with Briana Duncan

Briana Duncan, M.Ed (she/her/hers), College Advisor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Like many other admissions professionals, I began my career as a University Ambassador while completing my undergraduate degree. I realized my passion as students nationwide walked the campus and visualized themselves opening doors to their future through higher education. Getting my foot in the door as a front desk Admissions Office attendant at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and slowly working my way up to autonomous territory management, I desired a more in-depth knowledge of theory, student development, and policy. While leading an out-of-state recruitment team at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA (amidst a consolidation), checking in and out of Hilton properties recruiting students along the East Coast and Midwest, I started my Masters of Higher Education Administration degree. Yes, being the first in my family to complete a master’s degree was a fantastic accomplishment, and I am truly blessed, but that is not what I am most proud of achieving. My most crowning triumph was the journey itself: a millennial, black woman working full-time in a majority-white space, completing graduate coursework while managing a team of other young women of color in a small country town five hours from home, leading and practicing resilience during the 2016 presidential election – y’all. We begin careers in higher education to transform the lives of others. Still, so many times along the way, our dedication to the students and the students themselves end up changing us.

As a professional and individual, have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

COVID-19 has turned so many things upside down and changed our lives forever, but for me, it was an unexpected shift in career and a switch to the other side of the desk. As the only person of color in the Office of Admissions at a small, private institution, I was left feeling unfulfilled, misrepresented, and disrespected. Microaggressions assume many shapes and forms, and though often white and white-facing colleagues don’t mean to offend or oppress, it happens more times than not. We all know how small our region can feel. Everyone knows everyone, and word travels quickly. For the first time in my professional career, I was ready to give up and abandon all that I had worked to achieve. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind the students that ultimately keep all of us employed. Though feeling unsupported for a short time, it felt amplified while on lockdown and isolated from family and friends. Unmotivated and lost, I leaned on faith and my SACAC network. I am grateful for all of the fellowship and connections I have made and honestly advise others to find a small group of motivators and uplifters to keep you going. Lord knows I am grateful for mine.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

In the public school environment with an inner-city district, it amazes me that so many white and white-facing educators still look to BIPOC for ways to connect with students of color. Whether it be trying to garner attendance to virtual class in general or participation in programs and events, there are still many people within our industry who simply do not know or understand the obstacles that people of color face. I remain affirmed each time I reach a student through shared experience and empathy. Our students need our motivation and positivity now more than ever, and the resiliency we display will have long-lasting effects on their perception of education in the future. I do not want them ever to feel unheard, unseen, or forgotten. They matter, and their education matters, and if my presence and representation alone can do that, I will serve with a smile.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Only one piece of advice comes to mind, but if we all used this simple tip, we would be better off. SLOW DOWN. When you have an opportunity to connect with a student or colleague, those mounting emails can wait. When you find time to volunteer while traveling and recruiting students, take it and make a difference; when you need a break and feel run down, take time for yourself and your health. These institutions and offices will be there. The recruitment goals and strategic plans aren’t going away. We will also have deadlines and timelines. We know and understand their importance. You can best support your students and colleagues by being your real, rested, and refreshed self. Enjoy the ups and downs, but never take it too seriously. We owe it to each other to slow it down and show up as our best selves.

My History with SACAC

Morgan Fowler, Senior Admissions Counselor, High Point University

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

The first time I went to visit my college counselor at my northern Florida public school, she took a look at my transcript, took a look at me, and said, “So Florida State, UF, Howard, maybe Spelman?” I immediately informed her that I would be applying to FSU as my back up, but the others did not have a place on my list. I don’t remember the rest of that day’s meeting. But, I remember the next one. My college counselor made a point to speak to a teacher and coach that I was really close to. From those conversations, she began a conversation with me about liberal arts colleges. Inevitably, she helped me find my dream school.

My college process, as a whole, was so different from my parents’. They were student-athletes; they knew the universities they were attending with little hassle. That wasn’t the case for me, and they were very aware of that. They made a point to help me as much as they could without really knowing what the process entailed. Those two situations, separate but still connected, are why I was drawn to the admissions role.

I want to show my Florida students that they have amazing opportunities outside of the substantial Florida public school system. I want to assist families through their student’s college decision process, a process that can be stressful and ever-changing, with knowledge, support, and transparency. I want to help students find the institution that makes them feel the way I felt the moment I stepped on the University of Tampa’s campus.

Right now, my proudest accomplishment at High Point University is still happening. It is being able to play a lead role in intentional multicultural recruitment. In the past year, we have developed a Diversity Recruitment Board, begun a Diversity Mentorship Program, and created a brochure on Diversity and Inclusion at High Point University. Within all of this progression, the one constant is making sure students from historically underrepresented communities feel seen and heard and understood. These spaces we have created are doing that, and that’s the best thing we could ask for!

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

I believe the way we can better serve our students is the same way that we can better support our colleagues. It all comes from you.

Create a safe space, have conversations, and listen to what is being said. A safe space is incredibly important to any conversation, but especially those that may be emotionally charged or about a particularly laborious subject. Speaking from personal experience, I can have a conversation on the same topic in any space, but they will be different conversations. One will involve depth, communication, and feeling; the other will involve a tamed tone, a straight spine, and withholding. That’s why listening is so important. Listening, not just hearing. When you listen to someone, you take in the information provided. By doing that and adapting, you can create a safe space from an uncomfortable one. Then, you develop real communication with both students and colleagues.

Continue to educate yourself, and digest the information. We are constantly learning, as individuals, as a people, as an institution, as a country. Without additional knowledge, there is no progress. I believe that whenever anyone feels as if they “know enough,” they constrain themselves. Read. Have the difficult conversations. Listen to the bold podcasts. Watch the uncomfortable documentaries. And, I’m not talking about the true crimes documentaries on Netflix that are the kind of uncomfortable that sends a shiver up your spine. I’m talking about the uncomfortable that makes you want to crawl into yourself, that can cause a visceral reaction. It took me months to watch I Am Not Your Negro. It took me months to watch 13th. It took me months to watch When They See Us. But after watching each one, I knew I was better for it. I had more answers and more questions. I was reminded what was done and what was given for me and others like me to be where we are now. I was reminded why I speak up and push the way I do, so that my students and colleagues know they have an ally or an accomplice whenever they need one.

Be consistent. There is so much going on in the world. Black Lives Matter took center-stage for a moment as the pandemic had us all cooped up with nowhere to go and nothing to do but be active on social media. This led to an overall higher acknowledgment of America’s historically underrepresented and historically underserved communities. As the country tries to return to normalcy, the blind eyes are returning as well. That’s why consistency is so important.

Performative allies of both students and colleagues are engaging less, on social media and in-person. We see it; we feel it. But we also feel the continued affirmation and support of those who are truly with us. And we greatly appreciate it. I am by no means saying that connections need to be made every single day. But when a student comes to speak with you about a situation that you may not fully understand, make a point to validate their feelings because they matter. When a colleague has been holed up in their office the day after an unarmed person is shot, make a point to reach out and acknowledge that situations like that are not normal.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve?

I think my lived experiences and the students and families I am lucky enough to work with have and will always be my driving force in this work. I was born in Atlanta, GA. The Black Mecca, if you will. To begin my education, my parents made a choice to send me to Hopewell Christian Academy, an all-black private Christian school that was 45 minutes away from our home. Beauty Baldwin was my first principal. (If you don’t know who she is, look her up!) She and the Academy made sure that I knew one thing: I am Black excellence!

When we moved to Tallahassee, FL, I experienced being the only one in a space for the first time. My Blackness was questioned by my brown peers because I spoke the Queen’s English and had never seen Friday. My Blackness was questioned by my white peers also because I spoke the Queen’s English and had seen all the Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. After hearing it so much, I questioned it as well. And, it took me longer than I care to admit to get back to acknowledging that I am Black excellence.

I do not ever want my students to feel that way, to question themselves in that way. I want them to know that who they are is more than enough. I want them to be seen and heard in every space that they occupy. To understand that their ethnic background or religious belief or socioeconomic status matters. That their lived experiences are important. That how they identify should be respected. That if someone pronounces their name wrong, they should correct them every single time. I want to help in creating inclusive environments where they always feel like they are enough and always feel that they belong.

School Counselors Reflect on SACAC Professional Development

Amy Short, School Counselor at South Forsyth High School in Cumming, GA, and Meg Scheid, School Counselor at The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology in Lawrenceville, GA, sum up what SACAC wants to provide for school counselors – resources and support for college access counseling:

My SACAC membership has been everything to me, and I am continually promoting membership opportunities to fellow public school counselors. I am at a large, public, suburban high school, and the demand for knowledge and student support for the college research and application process is often more than we can adequately provide. As a SACAC member, the professional development offered at the annual conference, Drive-In Workshops, and webinars has allowed me to gain valuable information that I can then quickly share with my families.” -Amy Short

“ALL of my college and post-secondary option knowledge comes from SACAC. And it comes from both the professional development offerings AND the informal connections I make within the membership. I feel confident talking to my students about their options after high school when I get the information directly from the source. SACAC keeps me informed about the post-secondary world so that I can properly advise my students.” -Meg Scheid

SACAC strives to equip school counselors with strategies and resources that can help them find information quickly and effectively. Listed below are several future events that can help school counselors stay up to date with the changes that are occurring in college admissions:

February 6th, 2pm-3pm: Mini Camp College: Mini Camp College is a free, interactive, and informative college planning workshop designed for high school students from underrepresented and underserved populations. College admission professionals from institutions across the country will lead workshops designed to help students navigate the college application process. The topics will include: The College Search Process, Types of Colleges and How to Determine the “Right Fit.”

February 10th, 7pm-8pm: Mini Camp College (this session is a repeat offering for the event listed above). Two sessions of Mini Camp College are provided to allow as many students/families to attend as possible. Please only register to attend one version of the event.

Here’s what Anna Graham from Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee had to share about Mini Camp College: “This summer’s SACAC Mini Camp College webinars posted on YouTube were great resources and gave me just what I needed to begin my year with confidence in these uncertain times. I feel better prepared about my work, and being able to lean on the professional experience and information from these webinars, students and parents were reassured that we are all in this together to adapt to the future.”

February 11thSACAC Virtual College Fair: All students are welcome to attend.  A virtual college fair allows colleges to share brief presentations about their college in a virtual setting. Students and counselors attending these sessions are able ask general questions of all the colleges in the session or to ask questions of a specific college. With the COVID pandemic impacting students visiting college campuses, this is a great way to interact with college admission officers without having to travel.

Our Spring Webinars are great opportunities for counselors to learn more:

February 18th 12pm CT/ 1pm EST: Highlighting HBCUs

March 18th 11am CT/ 12pm EST: Women in Leadership Panel

April (Date and Time TBD): Preparing for a Virtual SACAC Conference

May 20th 11pm CT/ 12pm EST: Test-Optional Best Practices

April 19-21: 2021 SACAC Conference

The SACAC conference will be virtual this year and is free for all current SACAC members and all public school high school counselors, HBCU employees, and representatives from community-based organizations who are not currently members. Stay tuned as registration will begin in February, 2021.

Need financial support for future SACAC Professional Development?

Apply for the Counselor Participation Fund– The deadline to apply for the Counselor Participation Fund is Friday, February 12, 2021. If you are interested in receiving funding from SACAC for professional development, now is the time to submit your CPF application! As a reminder, the SACAC 2021 conference is free, but CPF funding can be used toward other SACAC programming, such as Summer Seminar, Sweet Tea Tour, or Dry Run. Additionally, members can utilize funding toward the NACAC Conference in September 2021. Please reach out to Laura Metzler or Julie Moloney, Co-Chairs of the Counselor Participation Fund, at, if you have any questions. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity from SACAC to grow professionally!

Challenges, Triumphs, and Advice: School Counseling During a Pandemic

As we continue to make our way through National School Counseling Week, we wanted to bring to light some of our very own school counselor SACAC member voices! From student support and success to college and career counseling and everything in between, our high school counselors this past year not only continued to serve their students, but they did so while navigating a virtual and remote world. We wanted to get an inside look at what some of our school counselor members have faced during the pandemic. We share below their challenges, their triumphs, as well as advice to other counselors.

Challenges & Triumphs

Engaging with students who have chosen virtual learning is a big challenge and requires some creative planning. Additionally, the financial burden that COVID has placed on families is intense; many of the virtual students are working long hours at a part-time job after school or taking care of younger siblings while trying to do their school work because parents have been forced to pick up extra shifts or work multiple jobs. They often don’t see postsecondary education as even an option, so my challenge is to help them find a way.

  • Sarah Bast | West High School

It’s probably easy for all of us to list the challenges! It’s been really tough conducting mental health support through digital learning. Zoom meetings just don’t offer the same type of support, though we are all finding ways to improve. It has also been very difficult to help students with their study skills, organization, and motivation when we have never had to “guide them” through a pandemic before! Students are really struggling with digital learning – especially for students who thrive in an environment where projects, discussion, and debate drive the learning. For small victories, I love that our alumni have been joining us on virtual “hangouts” with students. They are connecting more with our current students because the virtual world opens up all sorts of opportunities. We offered sessions that gave our graduating seniors the chance to talk about “real life” with GSMST Alumni. We also have more GSMST Alumni now getting involved in our Partnership Program, because they can offer presentations, live chats, and even mentoring for projects through the virtual setting.

  • Meg Scheid | The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology

I love to use technology and social media tools to communicate with students and parents. However, this school year provided an even bigger opportunity to lean into that love, expanding my knowledge of technology and social media in ways I never imagined. I have learned how to record workshops and seminars and have started the HVA College and Career Youtube channel, so students and parents have an opportunity to gather information when they need it the most.

  • Anna Graham | Hardin Valley Academy

Navigating my first year as a school counselor amidst a COVID world has been quite a whirlwind! I interviewed for my current position and was hired all during the mandated stay-at-home order period last year. Each day I come to work, I am learning that things are having to be adapted and changed in order to fit this school year and the challenges that COVID brings. Our county has offered both in-person learning and digital learning, so it has been interesting to learn how to support and counsel these students at a distance. One great part about being new to the profession this year is that it seems like everyone is a “first year” this year, so I don’t feel so alone in this learning process. Even though my students’ worlds have been turned upside down, I get to celebrate victories every day when my students get into college, make a sports team, or get hired for a job they really wanted! I’ve found that COVID has made us appreciate the small things more, and I hope I never stop appreciating the work I get to do and the opportunity I have to help others.

  • Mackenzie Molter | North Oconee High School

Students have opened up about their feelings more since interactions with their peers are limited.

  • Briana Duncan | Maynard Jackson High School

The COVID challenges I have faced as a school counselor this year have been many. For instance, one example is the higher numbers of failing grades. Our students have been somewhat disconnected. This is particularly concerning when you are trying to help students earn their diploma. In addition to this, the fluidity of students being virtual one day and then in-person another due to the need to quarantine has made our jobs very difficult when trying to schedule conferences, and addressing grades and behaviors.

  • Anonymous

Advice As We Move Forward

We always try to do the best we can. And right now, the “best we can” won’t be our best at all. Show yourself some grace. (And find great peers that support you when you don’t listen to your own words…LOL)

  • Meg Scheid | The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology

We will get through this – the students need our unwavering support so we need to stay positive for them.

  • Briana Duncan | Maynard Jackson High School

As a first-year counselor, I just want to say thank you to everyone in this field that has continued to help out new hires despite all the new challenges that have been thrown your way. When I started my graduate program, I never imagined I would begin my career in education during a global pandemic, but it has forced me to grow and learn and adapt, and I believe it has prepared us all to be better educators. Even more exciting are the hopeful educators that will continue to come behind us, so don’t forget that there is always someone looking up to you! Whether that be an intern, an undergraduate student confused about what they want to do when they finish school, a grade school student, or even a parent, let’s continue setting a good example and never hesitating to share with others why this profession is so special.

  • Mackenzie Molter | North Oconee High School

Stay open to new experiences, and be sure to take time to reflect on how you’ve grown over this school year. At the beginning of the spring semester, I took a moment to look back and reflect on the beginning of the fall semester; I was surprised to learn how much I have adapted to the challenges we face. No matter how long we have been in the profession, change and growth is possible!

  • Anna Graham | Hardin Valley Academy

Listen to your students, learn what they need and want….it will look different for every student. Teach them to believe that postsecondary education is possible whether that is an apprenticeship, technical school or 2/4 year college.

  • Sarah Bast | West High School

Thank you to the school counselors who were able to participate in our survey for National School Counseling Week, and for all school counselors continuing to serve their students tirelessly as we continue to move through the pandemic.

We encourage you to tune into ASCA’s webinar tomorrow on School Counselors Respond to COVID-19 at 2pm EST via Facebook Live or ASCA on Air.

A Glimpse Inside YES-Appalachia in North Carolina

Rebecca Figueroa (she/her), Operations Manager, YES-Appalachia (NC)

Tell us about your program and what you do:   

YES-Appalachia is a community-based organization that identifies high-performing, low-income students from rural Appalachia. Our mission is to uphold and implement America’s promise of equal opportunity for equal talent in the Western North Carolina counties of Ashe and Watauga. YES-Appalachia commits to providing long-term holistic support services that meet students’ needs at every milestone along their educational journey. We equip highly motivated scholars with the resources, support, and academic skills required for success through high school, college, and career. YES support services include, but are not limited to, weekly YES sessions focused on challenging students academically, in-house summer camps at Appalachian State University, college preparation advising, and access to internships and educational programming across the country.

How did the program get started?

YES-Appalachia is an autonomous branch of YES, a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization with over two decades of educational development work. YES originated in Los Angeles, and later expanded to Chicago, New York, and eventually rural Western North Carolina. YES-Appalachia is the fourth and newest YES branch, and is the only YES branch that serves and supports rural students. YES-Appalachia was established in 2014, in partnership with GEAR UP at Appalachian State University, after an App State alumnus had the opportunity to work for YES-Los Angeles. He believed that YES could be a great resource for high-achieving rural students like himself, and he decided to return to his home state to establish a YES branch in the Appalachian region of North Carolina.  And we are so glad and grateful that he did!

What is one thing your program is known for?  

What makes YES-Appalachia unique is our long-term commitment to our students. We recruit students in 6th grade, and our support for them extends through high school, college, graduate/professional school (if students choose), and all the way up to career placement. We walk alongside each individual student through every phase of their educational journey to ensure that they receive the support necessary to achieve their career goals.

What are you excited about in the near future for your program?           

We are super excited that the inaugural YES-Appalachia cohort will be graduating from high school this year! The scholars have all been diligently working on college applications, and we cannot wait to see the wonderful results after all their hard work.

How has SACAC played a role in your program and/or team?     

SACAC has been very supportive of YES-Appalachia projects, and it has served as an important resource for our staff. We were kindly granted an “Extend the Dream” grant for our three-day “YES-App Route 81 College Tour” for YES juniors and seniors that was scheduled for April 2020. Even though the college tour was cancelled due to COVID-19, we were able to transform our college tour to a two-part brown bag series with 9 different universities, and this was a wonderful experience for YES scholars to connect with admissions officers from various institutions. Additionally, SACAC has been instrumental in my own professional development through their webinars and their SACAC Counselor Participation Fund. We are very grateful for SACAC!

What’s the favorite lunch food of you or your team?     

I absolutely love Kimchi-jjigae with a bowl of steaming rice. Even though there are many ways to prepare this kimchi-based stew, my favorite is with pork belly. Yum!

What’s your favorite quote, and who originally said it? 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

-Lilla Watson

Tell us an interesting and fun tidbit about your program.            

Every summer, YES-Appalachia hosts the YES Adventure Academy at Appalachian State University. During this week-long, residential summer camp, six rising ninth grade scholars from each YES branch (Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and North Carolina) come together and enjoy a plethora of educational and social activities. This is a great and fun way to build a strong community of YES scholars across all four branches, and it serves as a rite of passage for YES scholars as they transition from middle school to high school. Even though the pandemic has disrupted this in-house summer program, we are eagerly planning for future YES Adventure Academies.

Anything else?

We are currently recruiting for the YES-Appalachia Class of 2027. It is always exciting to identify new YES scholars and begin working with them. We are grateful for the ability to continue to expand and serve more students, despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check in with Board Member Myronee Simpson

Myronee Simpson (she/her/hers), Director of College Counseling, Oak Hall School (FL)

Why did you want to join the SACAC Board?

The first professional development event I attended when I became a college counselor was the 2005 SACAC Summer Seminar, which is how I first learned about the association. While I worked at an institution in another affiliate for many years, SACAC was always held in high regard by colleagues across the country. Since I have been in Florida, my appreciation for SACAC has grown; I have always enjoyed my interactions with members during events such as the Annual Conference. I am very excited about this opportunity to serve with great colleagues and work on behalf of our membership.

How’s your first year on the Board going so far? 

So far, it has been a great but an unusual transition to the Board. While the work of the Board moves forward, we have all had to adjust to operating in a virtual space. Typically, by now I would have had the opportunity to meet all of the SACAC Board members in person at the SACAC Conference, the Summer Retreat, or during the NACAC Conference. Due to the pandemic, these events were either cancelled or held virtually, so I have missed not having the opportunity to interact with and meet many of my great Board colleagues in person.

Identify a person who has been particularly influential in your growth and development as a college admissions professional.      

I have been very fortunate to work with many talented individuals during my career. There are so many people I could name who have been influential in my professional growth. Since I have to narrow this to a few individuals, I have to cite Karen Ferretti and former colleagues Susan Waters and Joan Liu. All three of them played a significant role in the direction of my career as a college counselor and as a leader in my former affiliate, NJACAC. I have grown and learned more as a college admissions professional as a result of their friendship, mentorship, and support over the course of my career.

In light of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, what is one thing you hope to see change/develop/disappear from the college admission industry?       

I hope that moving forward the term “demonstrated interest” disappears from the college admission industry. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many high school students did not have the ability or the means to visit the campuses of the schools they may apply to. While it is a minority of institutions that still consider an applicant’s demonstrated level of interest as a factor in the application review, my hope is that moving forward all schools will take the view that if a high school senior has invested the time to apply to their school, they have shown interest.

Say you were confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Education, what policy would you implement/change on day one of your term?

I would double the maximum amount available for the Pell Grant. As the cost for attending college has increased every year, this change is needed in order to offer more financial assistance to lower income students.