All manner of things were tacked to the walls and bulletin boards: pamphlets on the truth about drugs and how to talk to teens about suicide, college preparation materials, the school bell schedule, a few drawings by young children, a Princeton recruitment poster, contact information for hotlines and mental health services. Just by looking around the small yet welcoming office of high school counselor and Student Assistance Program Coordinator Angela Jankowsky ’00 it was clear to me that this was not only a busy woman but one who wore many different hats: mom, social worker, and academic counselor, to name a few. I was at the Cary High School in Cary, a town just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, to shadow Angela for three days, hoping to gain insight into the day-to-day life of a school counselor.
The most valuable parts of the experience were when I got to witness one-on-one counseling sessions between Ms. J (as the students call her) and one of the teens. I had not been sure if I would be allowed to observe these conversations, for confidentiality reasons and because I thought the students might be uncomfortable with my presence, but I am very grateful that I was. Sometimes students would come to Student Services out-of-the-blue to speak with Angela because they were having a breakdown and other times teachers sent them because they were struggling in class for some reason. A few times Angela had to check in on one of the pregnant girls at the school to see how everything was going. I saw that quite often students will report their friends for making suicidal statements or because they saw evidence of cutting. In these cases one of the counselors would then have to talk to the reported student and would then be required to report these incidents to the parents. Additionally, Angela sometimes teaches classes on the signs of suicide and suicide prevention.
There always seemed to be many messages on her answering machine! When not counseling, she spent a lot of time making phone calls which she would afterwards always explain to me. For example, she might be calling the local hospital to check on a student who had just given birth or she might be discussing with Homebound Services a student who had a concussion and cannot come to school for a few weeks. She also did a lot of negotiating with administration and other parties over cases of homelessness.
In addition to dealing with the crisis situations, there is an academic counselor side to her job. For example, the first day I was there she had to assist a class of tenth graders register for next year’s classes online. The next two days I spent some time helping her go through the schedules one-by-one to ensure each student had signed up for the right courses. On my second day I accompanied a tour of the school she was giving to incoming ninth graders and their families.
I was fortunate that during two of the days of my Princeternship the school psychologist was on campus. Megan Trapasso is the school psychologist at Cary High but also at an elementary school in the county, since school psychologists generally split their time between a couple of schools. I have been considering a career in either school counseling or school psychology, so this opportunity to speak with her would allow me to see the difference between the careers first hand.
I spent a few hours with Megan, learning and asking questions about what her job entails. She told me all about the IEP meetings she participates in and the types of special education and behavioral assessments she administers. Due to rules of confidentiality, I could not actually sit in on one of her meetings or sessions with students or parents but she gave me a good idea of how the job generally goes. For demonstration we ran through an online evaluation for autism of a pretend four-year old named “Charlie Brown,” and she even gave me an assessment of my reading level (just for fun). Megan also took me to visit two of the inspiring special education classrooms at Cary High, one for students of moderate intellectual disability and one for students with autism.
Ultimately, my three days interning at Cary High were invaluable to me. I would recommend the Princeternship Program to absolutely any student because it is a great way to gain experience and understanding of a career of interest in just a few days. In my few days I learned how busy and varied the day of a school counselor tends to be. I learned how frustrating and at other times rewarding the job is. I learned the difference between a school psychologist and a school counselor, but most of all I learned that I am more intrigued by and inclined toward this field than ever. This Princeternship really helped me make some decisions about my future and though I am not yet sure what my future holds, I feel things are definitely becoming clearer. I would like to thank Princeton Career Services, Angela Jankowsky ’00, Megan Trapasso, and the Cary High School for making this great experience possible!