Trailblazing Your Future with K¹² International Academy College Counselors

Trailblazing Your Future with K¹² International Academy College Counselors

By Kimia Pourali

You likely pass many hours interacting with your school and college counselors to acquaint yourselves, allowing them to stand by you at every step of your educational journey. They inquire your interests, assess your challenges, offer personality and learning type tests and other resources, to ensure you are on track, your goals are solidified, and that all your worries are alleviated, and successes are shared.

Yet, have you ever had the chance to know your counselors better? Have they ever told you parts of their life stories, inspirations, and personal interests? After having received immense help from my college counselors, Mrs. Pine and Mr. Berry, I decided to approach them to query their visions and wisdom, and to share all of this with the K¹² International Academy community, to acknowledge and appreciate the assistance we have in blazing our paths to our futures.

Enjoy, and please share in the comments how your awesome school counselor has helped you!

I started my interview by asking them about their personal and educational background. Mr. Berry said,

"I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA in a family of 10. I earned my Master’s Degree in Educational Counseling at the University of Pittsburgh and moved to Maryland, where I have been for the past 20 years. I also have a National Counselor Certificate and am a member of the American School Counselor Association and the National Association for College Admission Counseling. I have a wife, daughter and son."

Mrs. Pine, on the other side of the Upper School, said

"I grew up in Woodland Hills, CA. I have an older sister and a younger brother. I moved to Colorado 5 years ago with my husband, 3 daughters and 2 German Shepherds. My undergraduate degree is in Communications and Studio Arts from Loyola Marymount University and my Master’s Degree is in Education from California Lutheran University. I hold a College Counseling Certification from the University of CA Riverside. I am a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling."

I curiously continued my questions, asking about what inspired each to pursue careers that involve working with students. I always love to know the deeper meaning and reasoning people attach to things in their lives, including vocation, thus, this was a must-ask. Not to my surprise, and, instead, to my pleasure, both Mr. Berry and Mrs. Pine had remarkable stories. Mr. Berry recounted,

"A few years after I graduated from college with a Business Degree, I was in a serious car accident and was not able to walk for a year. During my rehabilitation, I had time to think about a lot of things! I’ve always enjoyed helping people and being a School Counselor gave me the opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of many young people. Unlike a Social Worker, being a School Counselor provided the environment to work with a wide range of students. I’ve worked with students who had very difficult lives all the way to students who had aspirational goals and just needed some encouragement."

Mrs. Pine exclaimed,

"This is an interesting story! After I graduated from college I opened my own restaurant business with a few partners. We were successful but I was not feeling like this was my life calling. After doing a lot of soul searching, I sold off my share of the business and went back to school. I wanted to do something that I got up every day and was excited about. I absolutely love working with kids so the field of education was a perfect fit for me! Being a part of a child’s educational journey is a privilege and I take it very seriously."

I further requested of our counselors to elaborate upon their roles as online counselors, and their favorite aspects and/or outcomes of counseling. Mr. Berry answered that he,

"had already been in the School Counseling profession for 13 years before coming to K12 International Academy. I knew what programs needed to be in place but I had to figure out how to deliver them in the virtual environment! I was not lucky enough to have Mrs. Pine as my colleague until my third year as a College Counselor. I would say that my favorite aspect of this job is working directly with the students. The online environment provides some additional challenges for the teachers, counselors, and students…not to mention parents. By providing as much support as possible to all of our students, we are able to help build a foundation of success. You may not believe this but I am actually able to get to know many of my students better in the online environment than I was in the brick & mortar environment. We encourage our students to build that relationship throughout their high school career. Whether it is attending one of our weekly Class Connect sessions, reading our monthly newsletter, or asking us questions over K-Mail or Skype, we are here to help.

Mrs. Pine gave a huge thank you to Mr. Berry, and gushed,

"I love being a College Counselor. Holding weekly Class Connect sessions on various aspects of the college application process and college readiness is a big part of my job and connecting with students during this time is great. But my favorite part of the job by far is getting to know students on a personal level as we work towards their college goals. We have such an amazing student population, each with an individual story to tell. I am so lucky to be a part of this time in their lives. The job can be challenging at times when we are working with time zones and the fact that we cannot pull students out of class and into an actual office. BUT, Skype helps a lot with that!"

Considering K¹² International Academy is an international school, with plenty of students from all around the globe, all with various cultural backgrounds, I wondered if such differences served as barriers, or simply made the job of counseling all students more enriching. Both Mr. Berry and Mrs. Pine veered toward the latter opinion; Mr. Berry humored us,

"Believe it or not; the biggest challenge is not the cultural differences but the time zone differences!" He elaborated, "Since our school is an American based curriculum and most of our students are interested in attending U.S. universities, we are all ‘speaking the same language.’ I absolutely enjoy talking with students from around the country and across the globe. It is so fascinating to learn about their lives and cultural experiences. Learning about our students’ lives helps me to understand their situations more thoroughly and assist them accordingly."

Mrs. Pine built upon this answer, exclaiming,

"I have never found our International school status to be an issue in connecting with students. On the contrary, I find it fascinating to learn about the goals our kids have both domestically and internationally. I think our kids are really on it. You have to be when you are working in a virtual environment!"

Again, concerning K¹² International Academy’s status as a distance education provider, I was interested to know how our fantastic College Counselors translate everything they learn and favor in their students into a thorough letter of recommendation. This endeavor of theirs piqued my interest particularly compared to the face-to-face and more personal interactions and exposures to student personalities and works that college counselors would typically have in brick-and-mortar schools. When asked what factors and traits are necessary to consider, Mr. Berry outlined a few of K¹² International Academy’s tools for seniors, stating,

"In working with the seniors, we have several ways to get to know them. A key tool that we use is the ‘Counselor Recommendation: autobiographical sketch,’ which is posted in Family Connection. This questionnaire was specifically designed for our unique program as an online school. I have found that I am able to learn a great deal about our students while working with them on their college applications. Whether it is from the questionnaire or frequent Skype conversations, I feel quite confident that I am able to clearly represent the students in my recommendation letters." Mrs. Pine wrapped up the topic, affirming, "Yes, Mr. Berry said it all. We make all efforts to get to know our kids very well before standing behind a letter of recommendation."

As a student who is interested particularly in selective colleges and Ivies, I have always wondered how "online schooling" appears to Admissions Officers. Do they have the common stigma that we’re all socially inept and receded into online school for such reasons? Or are they fully aware of some of the strengths online school students need, beyond traditional students, such as greater independence, especially in work ethic and structure, and time management? Have you ever pondered the same discouraging things, thinking Admissions Officers may view online schooling as a weakness in an application? Well, no need to fear! According to Mr. Berry,

"as our school continues to grow; we are building a strong record of college/university acceptances. Our School Profile lists very important information about the K12 International Academy to help the post-secondary institutions understand our program. One key component is a representative listing of past college/university acceptances. Admissions Officers look very closely at that list as a way to determine the strength of our program and students. We have had students accepted to an Ivy League school, various highly selective institutions and top technical universities, not to mention several Military Academies. As long as the Admissions Officer knows that we are an accredited high school and sees our record of previous admissions, they feel confident in seriously considering our students."

Mrs. Pine emphasized the actual difficulty of our school’s courses, saying,

"We do a lot of networking with colleges to educate them on our school and the rigor of our courses. Every year the College Counselors attend the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference where we have additional opportunities to talk to colleges about our program and our students. In addition, our school profile does a good job of highlighting the accomplishments of our students and graduates."

We all know that a huge key to success in our later middle school years, through high school, and further into college rely heavily upon both the personal guidance of our college counselors, as well as the bounty of resources they may provide. Mr. Berry reflected,

"We always say that the College Counselors should not be a ‘bottleneck to important information’," and continued about Family Connection, which appears to be the primary source of various college information, saying, "This is why we have built out a comprehensive set of resources on Family Connection. This site is secure, customized to our school, and available 24/7. We feel that students and parents should be able to do research on their own terms and timelines. When we meet with students, our conversations are very efficient because they have been able to do a lot of background research. Seniors are required to use Family Connection when applying to colleges or universities because the College Counselors need to submit supporting school documents when the student submits his or her application materials. Using such technology allows us to submit our documents electronically and with the confidence that Admissions Offices will receive them on time.

Concerning more direct communication, Mrs. Pine specified,

"Skype is a great tool for us to use for the purposes of online counseling. We are able to screen share tools and resources in Family Connection as well as help our students walk through the application process. Class connect sessions are another way we get our message out to students about the importance of course planning, college admissions factors, the application process, and many other topics. Of course we are always responsive to Kmail."

Further, I thought, with so much experience, there are likely many common questions that our College Counselors receive from students, and even common mistakes students make. Interestingly, the top question, according to Mr. Berry, is as broad as…’How do we apply?’ In response to this, Mr. Berry said,

"We direct students to Family Connection because everything is posted relating to the college admissions process. This starts the process and we then work with families throughout the entire process." Mrs. Pine expanded upon the common questions, including, ‘Do your seniors get into top colleges?’ ‘What are your accreditations?’ ‘Can my student get into a good college graduating from K12 International Academy?’ and ‘How do colleges view your graduates?’ She praises these as, "all wonderful questions and we answer them honestly. Many times a look at our school profile will be helpful but we always take the time to talk to parents and students as long as it takes to help them feel at ease with making the decision to school their child with K12 International Academy."

As a student already engaging in the college searching and admissions process, I also have to consider the plausible pitfalls for students in my position, which encouraged me to ask about the biggest mistakes students make in their college applications and preparation for college, which undermine their chances of acceptance. I further inquired, what our counselors do to help other students avoid those potholes in the road to college. Mr. Berry always offers a scenario to students:

"Imagine that you are now a senior, what would you have done differently as a ninth grader?" This question and students’ answers to it truly emphasize how, "starting the college search early helps to take the pressure off and allows students to develop a strategic plan. For example, knowing which classes are required for college entrance will help students develop a meaningful academic plan. Also, it is natural to ‘fall in love’ with a particular college but students may ‘fall out of love’ upon further exploration. By starting the search earlier, students can build a meaningful list based on their interests and passions…even if they change over their time in high school."

Mrs. Pine specified that,

"I would say not doing proper research and planning," is likely the biggest mistake. She continued, "We encourage our students to create and update their 4-year course plan in Family Connection and as they are doing college research, they should cross-reference their courses to align with the college recommendations and plan of study based on their career path."

In the concluding portions of our interview, I desired to receive a few concise words of wisdom from our wonderful counselors, and know about their own hobbies and favorites.

Firstly, I asked for one, most crucial piece of advice for seniors about to apply to college. Mr. Berry assured,

"Don’t feel like you have to approach this process by yourself. You don’t have anything to prove by doing everything yourself. You also deny yourself the opportunity to learn from others and gather different perspectives throughout the process. Collaboration is important and will ultimately help you to be confident with your choice." I thought this was a tremendously promising note: really, do not ever convince yourself that you do not need help.

Mrs. Pine expanded upon what Mr. Berry stated,

"I think it is also important to think about what you want to do after graduation early on in high school. Research colleges, get on their mailing lists, visit college campuses in your travels, and talk to people you trust."

Second, I asked for their overall philosophy towards life, and for specific quotes/mottos they follow on a daily basis. Mr. Berry exclaimed,

"What a great question….let me think about that!" He mustered the answer, "I would say to hold true to your morals and beliefs. At the end of the day, the only thing that you can control is yourself and those core beliefs will ultimately guide you in the right direction."

Mrs. Pine also lauded,

"wow, really good question," and shared, "a few sayings [we have] around our home. One of them is ‘Never Give Up.’ This can be in relation to any challenge you come across, not just in school but also in life. The second one we like to live by is ‘Fall Down 7 Times, Stand Up 8’." Providing this food for thought, she concluded warmly with a smile, "I will let you think about that one."

Surely, you have engaged in personal conversation with your counselors, teachers, and Academic Coaches, talking about your favorite pastimes and anything else you love and that brings you joy. But, have they ever detailed their own answers for you? Next, I asked about what our fantastic college counselors enjoy in their spare time, when they aren’t busy standing by our sides as we blaze our own trails. For hobbies and entertainment, Mr. Berry reflected,

"Like many parents, I spend a lot of time with my kids’ activities. My daughter is a flute player. Since I have no musical ability whatsoever, the best thing that I can do to show my support is to drive her to concerts, auditions, and recordings! My son loves baseball and I have been a coach for his teams over the years. That, I can do. I also love swimming and recently started doing Open Water Swims. These are great because the events always support a charity and they are a way for me to challenge myself physically. I am currently training for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in June. This event benefits The March of Dimes and other local organizations. It is what it sounds like, a 4.4 mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, MD. I also enjoy reading a good spy novel or autobiography when I have the time!"

Mrs. Pine joked,

"Sometimes I feel like I am busy 27 hours a day," and, no, that was not a mistake in noting the hours in a day. She exclaimed, "BUT, I do LOVE my free time! I spend a lot of it with my kids in their activities; Marital Arts is a big one around our house. I love to cook and bake as well. Living in Colorado affords us a lot of opportunity to be outside. We like to hike and are part of a Jeep club so we spend many weekends off-roading in remote mountain areas. I begin every day with a workout. Keeping a strong and healthy body is important to me."

As for favorites, I asked for things such as colors, foods, seasons, books, authors, music genres, artists, scientists, actors, emoticons, IM slang—just about anything and however many could have worked.

Mr. Berry started with the easy one,

"when talking over Skype, you’ll see [the thumbs up emoticon] quite often. This one seems to sum it up for me when talking with our students. I am always impressed with our students and confident that they will do what is needed to reach their goals." He noted his favorite color as blue, favorite food as Italian, season as summer, author as Daniel Silva, and music as "stuck in the 80s." For scientists, he said he is "taking [his] daughter to see Dr. Michio Kaku in April," and for actors, declared himself, "too busy to have one!"

Mrs. Pine started with her “LOVE” of chocolate, and how "anything pumpkin is super yum!" She exuberantly noted,

"vibrant colors give me energy and make me smile." For favorite seasons, she chose spring as "by far my favorite season but I also love fall when the Aspen leaves turn bright gold!" As we can easily imagine, she does not, "have the time really to sit down and read or watch movies," and reminded us that she does indeed, "have 3 kids, 2 dogs and a husband…," who, "as a matter of fact, are all sleeping while I am typing this, so, there you have it." She admits, "The only TV show I watch with my kids is ‘Once Upon a Time’." She humorously implores, "Don’t judge me, I know it is a ridiculous show, but we like it." She also noted that she is, "from CA originally so I grew up at the beach, and love the sand, salt air, and tranquility I get from being by the water." She also has, "a huge seashell collection," and her "favorite animal is the dolphin,” since, "they are so free spirited, playful, and intelligent." As for Skype emoticons, she happily confesses, "I kind of overdo the smiley face icon but so much can be said with a simple happy face."

This concludes my interview with our marvelous College Counselors, Mr. Berry and Mrs. Pine! I thank them so much for their interest in participating in this interview, and their willingness to share so much knowledge and wisdom concerning not only the tremendously crucial voyage of students from high school into college, but also about life and joy in general. I truly hope all of you, our readers, have benefited and learned from all their insight. I can say from first-hand experience, Mrs. Pine was so calming for my transition from mixed 8th and 9th grade courses, into being fully in high school, and Mr. Berry has been so encouraging from there on out; his open-mindedness and availability for both myself and outside programs that needed his recommendations and evaluations of my scholastic and extra-curricular performance ultimately allowed me the opportunities to be accepted to and attend selective summer internships last summer and this upcoming summer. All in all, if you have not yet needed to work with either of our jovial and astute college counselors, I promise you are in for fabulous support, and if you already work with them, please don’t ever take their poise and guidance for granted!

For additional posts by Kimia click HERE

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