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School counselor Phyllis Currao works with GEAR UP to motivate Proctor students
At Proctor Jr./Sr. High School, Phyllis Currao works to ensure the success of all her students and provides them with the opportunity for a successful academic school year as well as a bright future in a promising career.
With a student body of just over 135 from grades 7–12, Proctor Jr./Sr. High School has a unique set of economic, social, and emotional barriers. A significant challenge is the limited number of electives the school is able to offer for such small class sizes, restricting students from learning about a variety of career pathways.
However, being small is not entirely without its upsides. Even though she’s the school’s only counselor, Phyllis still serves a much smaller group of students than counselors at other schools. She enjoys having “individual one-on-one time with the students; it helps with the ability to build trustful relationships and provide support with their social and emotional developments.”
“I am able to provide more support because I can reach each one of them, being that we are a smaller population,” she adds.
Another benefit of a small class size is the ability to take students on exciting field trips. “Each year I am awarded great funding from GEAR UP so I ear-mark it in areas that I think would benefit the kids. We’ve gone to Cabot Creamery, Ben and Jerry’s, and Lake Champlain Chocolates to name a few. Employees meet with my students to discuss the variety or career opportunities that exist within the business, such as advertising, finance, sales, customer service, human resources, and web-based programming. We have also attended career fairs, college fairs, and several universities where we have received personal tours which allowed our students to explore at their own pace."
Although Proctor has had support from GEAR UP since before Phyllis started there 9 years ago, she says they really started to build the program after the $31 million GEAR UP Grant was awarded to Vermont schools in the fall of 2018. “We go through the funding and we see what our needs are, where we could use more money. Then we fill out the application, and we’re able to provide our kids with some extra supports.”
Additionally, students have access to a counselor from GEAR UP, in Proctor’s case Nate Hickey. “He meets with them, and they discuss college, career and postsecondary planning. Last year we went on a field trip to Sienna College, and the kids were able to take what they learned there, discuss it with their GEAR UP counselor, and further look into the school, as well as the financial aid process. GEAR UP supports them economically as well as socially and emotionally.”
“A partnership with GEAR UP has afforded my students additional opportunities and support. Being the sole school counselor, it’s a challenge to delve deeper; I can introduce ideas to my students and GEAR UP takes it to the next level. Having that counselor here on campus really continues to build upon the students’ pathway.”
Unfortunately, since March, Phyllis has been unable to meet with her students in person when they need her most. “All of the challenges we faced before have been exacerbated by COVID-19. My students who struggle economically, struggle more so. There’s also a lack of connection with the adults they’re used to at Proctor High School.” This year’s lack of certainty stemming from the pandemic and nationwide racial unrest hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it’s hit students, still trying to find their place in the world, harder than anyone else. “They have the feeling of being lost. They don’t really know which way to go now.”
Still, Phyllis remains hopeful. “I feel lucky to have GEAR UP be my partner here. I hope that it remains with us forever, regardless of the economic strife we might be in due to COVID-19; it has been extremely helpful and supportive to call them my teammate.”
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