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Why This Alumna Became a Counselor at Her Alma Mater

college counseling

“When I became a counselor many of my friends and even family members would ask me, ‘Do you have a couch where you ask students how they're doing while you scribble notes in a notepad?’” chuckled Stacie Cruz, a counselor at Ánimo Leadership Charter High School. As an educator at Green Dot, Cruz support students in a multitude of ways: providing college readiness counseling, trauma and mental health support, academic support, and career advising. “I love it because I feel like I'm really prepared and able to do a lot more for students than other counselors. I have colleagues in different districts and they mainly focus on either academic or career advising,” reflected Cruz. Equipping counselors with the training and necessary supports to meet all students’ needs furthers our mission of closing the achievement gap and making certain that all Green Dot students graduate from our schools prepared for college, leadership, and life.

A Clear Path to College

At Green Dot our educators and staff meet students where they are and collaborate to ensure we are closing the gaps for students. Our school psychologists help enhance the social and emotional well-being of our students and support their academic success. They partner with community providers by collaborating and consulting to help create stronger relationships between parents, schools and the community through individual therapy, group therapy, and crisis intervention. our mission is to help transform public education so all students graduate prepared for college, leadership and life.

Our school counselors help ensure that all students have the necessary knowledge and support to navigate the road to college well before their senior year. At Animo Leadership, Cruz and Matthews Rollin, another school counselor meets with freshmen students biweekly to participate in a series of presentations and workshops. They focus on topics such as A-G college entrance requirements, grading scales, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

As students get closer to their senior year they delve into financial aid and the college application process. One area of focus is Personal Insight Questions (PIQs), which are a critical component of the college application process and a requirement for the University of California (UC) campuses. To ensure students are prepared, the counseling team works with all 10th grade students and helps them create first drafts of their PIQs.

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Together they navigate the college application process, helping students feel knowledgeable and confident in the process. To help students and their families prepare for the transition into college, the counseling team meets one on one with every single 11th grade student and their parents to discuss goals, financial aid, scholarship opportunities, and the possibility of attending out of state colleges. Cruz recognizes that it’s a group effort, this is why the counseling team works closely with teachers and school staff to help make college accessible for each and every student.

"We are very fortunate that we have college readiness classes. In 12th grade students will do the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as well as UC and Cal state applications in class,” said Cruz. This collaboration helps ease the complexity of the college application process by breaking it down into a series of steps that are more manageable for students.

Proud to Serve

For Cruz, Ánimo Leadership is a second home and it’s not just because she has worked there for the last eight years-- she also graduated from the school in 2005. She attributes her passion for counseling to her experience at her alma mater. As a student at Leadership, she became aware of the Green Dot difference early on.

“The path to college was a lot easier for me than it was for my older sister. She went to a local traditional school and though she had a 4.0 GPA her counselor told her to go to El Camino Community College,” recalled Cruz. “Whereas at Ánimo Leadership we had a college readiness class and we were shown all the steps.” What happened to Cruz’s sister is now known as undermatching, a phenomenon in which well qualified high school seniors, often students from underserved communities who are the first in their family to attend college are not matched with competitive colleges.

Stacie Cruz (left) and friend at Animo Leadership 2004.
Stacie Cruz (left) and friend at Animo Leadership 2004.

These students leave high school and attend less demanding colleges where the completion rate is significantly lower, impacting their chances of graduating within four years. A 2012 study by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, found that more than half of the most talented applicants from low income households never apply to a competitive college. Tracking 5,000 students, they found that 43% of the students surveyed were undermatched. At Green Dot, our counselors work with students and families to ensure students are applying to the right schools. “Because our schools are small, we are really able to connect with students and know them and their families on an individual level,” said Cruz. “We provide dedicated classes where they get information on college, but we’re also able to talk to students one on one and that really helps us figure out what their goals are, where they're at, what they are capable of, and where they can succeed.”

We know that being prepared for college is a combination of students’ academic abilities and life skills. Our educators and counselors work to ensure students graduate from our schools confident in their ability to navigate the higher education system and prepared for the academic rigor of college.

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