Ward, 51, started her training profession at Bucknell College, her alma mater, the place she spent seven years working in admissions Then she was recruited to work as a school counselor on the Menlo College, a non-public faculty in Atherton, California, with a $50,000 annual price ticket.

At Menlo, her days revolved round serving to college students curate their highschool careers and lists of schools. She additionally wrote detailed suggestions for every pupil and developed relationships with admissions officers at extremely selective faculties and universities.

“I’d suppose, ‘Perhaps I ought to name Dartmouth once more as a result of I haven’t known as them in two weeks,’ ” she mentioned.

Her caseload was usually round 35 college students.

That’s an enormous distinction from her present function, by which she and a colleague attempt to serve all 320 seniors and counsel youthful college students. “At a public faculty,” mentioned Ward, “you is perhaps fortunate to satisfy with some college students as soon as for half an hour or 45 minutes.”

However Ward is dedicated to creating certain her college students get steerage tailor-made to their particular person wants. On a Friday morning in January, Ward met with Terra Linda’s three faculty counselors to plan a dad and mom’ night time for juniors and arrange a profession and technical honest. Later that morning, she chatted with an adviser from the close by Faculty of Marin, the place some Terra Linda college students take courses for school credit score, and he or she met with Katy Dunlap, the college principal.

Faculty counselor Brad Ward meets with faculty principal Katy Dunlap at Terra Linda Excessive College. Ward brings a wealth of information of the school admissions course of because of her expertise as a former admissions officer. “We’re completely fortunate that Brad utilized,” Dunlap mentioned. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

Dunlap mentioned she was struck throughout Ward’s interview by her in-depth information of particular faculties. Ward has visited greater than 300 faculty and college campuses in her 20-year profession in admissions and faculty counseling. “I’d by no means met anybody who has gone to as many faculties or universities,” Dunlap mentioned of Ward. That enables Ward “to actually individualize for youths what could be a great match for them,” the principal mentioned.

“I’m a bit of obsessed,” Ward mentioned sheepishly.

This previous spring break, she road-tripped by way of the South and visited greater than a dozen faculties and universities in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Her new purpose is to go to all 115 neighborhood faculties in California.

The general public faculty system isn’t geared to attracting counselors who’ve that sort of detailed expertise with faculties and faculty admissions. Counseling jobs at most public faculties require a grasp’s diploma and a state credential, however the coaching – and obligations – concentrate on psychological well being counseling, not faculty and profession steerage.

Recognizing the necessity, Terra Linda just a few years in the past joined a small variety of excessive faculties which have added full-time faculty and profession counseling jobs, usually with the assistance of out of doors {dollars}. Ward’s place is funded by HeadsUp, a nonprofit basis that dietary supplements the budgets of native faculties. Paradoxically, her job is a categorized place that doesn’t require a post-secondary credential, not even a bachelor’s diploma, although this varies by faculty and district.

That’s an issue, says Dunlap. “It’s very, very difficult to be counseling children about faculty if you haven’t even gone your self,” she mentioned. “We’re completely fortunate that Brad utilized.”

Faculty counselor Brad Ward advises a pupil on the admissions course of at Terra Linda Excessive College’s Faculty and Profession Middle. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

Following her assembly with Dunlap, Ward returned to the Faculty and Profession Middle to greet two Military recruiters who had been there to arrange a sales space within the quad at lunch. Regardless of the army’s prohibition on transgender service members, Ward believes the army is an efficient profession choice for some college students. Her father was within the Military, and he or she welcomes its representatives to campus every month. “Army of us are among the bravest folks I do know, and provides me inspiration for what I’m making an attempt to do,” Ward mentioned.

On one other afternoon, proper earlier than faculties shut, Ward met with the mom of a senior who was nervous about her son’s faculty prospects, adopted by a bubbly 11th grader, Angela, who needed assist narrowing an inventory of 30 faculties. Ward suggested her to begin fascinated with trainer suggestions and to create an account for the Widespread App, the web software system utilized by greater than 800 faculties. She additionally warned Angela that writing essays could be probably the most time-consuming half.

Angela buried her face in her palms. “I’m so paranoid I’m not going to get in wherever,” she mentioned.

“Don’t fear, there’s a school for everyone,” Ward reassured her. “It’s a disturbing course of, however you’re solely going to undergo it as soon as.”

Then one other junior, Stella, got here in along with her mom, who defined that neither she nor her husband had gone to varsity. “We’re simply beginning to consider it,” she mentioned. “I do know there’s simply a lot to know and so many locations she may go.” She requested after they would wish to finish the Free Software for Federal Scholar Support, often known as the FAFSA, which opens on Oct. 1 for the subsequent educational 12 months.

A lot of Ward’s time is now spent serving to 17-year-olds kind by way of their dad and mom’ tax returns to fill out the FAFSA. That wasn’t one thing she had a lot expertise with in personal faculty, the place many households pay for school out of pocket. It’s been a “vertical studying curve,” she mentioned of her transition. “I’ve realized extra within the final 12 months and a half than I did in all of the 18 and a half years earlier than that.”

The profession shift has come at nice private expense. When she was initially employed as a full-time counselor at Terra Linda, Ward was making round $40,000 for the tutorial 12 months, a 3rd of what she earned on the personal faculty. However she mentioned it has been price it as a result of she’s utilizing her experience to assist children who’ve nowhere else to show for school and profession recommendation, not simply aiding so many already privileged to build up extra privilege.

“I can assist so many children instantly,” she mentioned. “I am simply making an attempt to do a great factor that may assist lots of people.”

There’s one more reason Ward feels strongly about being seen to college students. She’s conscious of how, as a transgender educator, merely being current for college kids can alter lives. Analysis reveals that having a supportive grownup can considerably scale back incidences of suicide amongst LGBTQ+ younger folks, and that LGBTQ+ college students who’re uncovered to optimistic representations of homosexual and transgender folks and historical past report performing higher at school.

“If I’m standing within the hallway, children strolling by get to know me,” mentioned Ward. “They know that I’m there for them. Plus there’s the visibility of being outwardly transgender— ‘Oh, there’s Brad in a skirt, that’s completely different.’ It’s vital to me to be seen for the LGBTQ+ neighborhood.”

Brad Ward is a former admissions officer who made the uncommon change from public to personal excessive faculties two years in the past. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

She additionally needs to encourage different LGBTQ+ people, who’ve traditionally been excluded from working within the public training system, to contemplate faculty counseling as a profession choice.

Ward had been working on the personal Menlo College when she started to return out as transgender. In November 2016, after 10 years on the faculty, she realized that her contract wouldn’t be renewed. (Alex Perez, director of communications at Menlo College, mentioned in an e-mail that her departure was not associated to her standing as a transgender girl.)

Ward spent the subsequent 12 months at Alto Worldwide College, one other small personal faculty, the place she has continued to seek the advice of half time. In summer season 2017, she started a two-year time period on the board of the nonprofit Western Affiliation for Faculty Admission Counseling. On the time, solely one of many group’s 30 board members or different leaders was employed at a public highschool. As well as, solely one-third of the affiliation’s faculty counseling membership was made up of public faculty counselors, when nearly 90 % of scholars in america attend public faculties.

That has began to alter, although. Final 12 months, the affiliation invited public faculty counselors to affix without cost, which has boosted their illustration.

Ward’s expertise as a board member with the affiliation prompted her to begin fascinated with making the change to public faculties. In 2018, she eagerly took a school counseling job at Menlo-Atherton, a public highschool with 2,400 college students. It was a short lived, one-year place with out advantages. The following 12 months, she joined Terra Linda in San Rafael, which is coincidentally the place she grew up.

Brad Ward helped Terra Linda senior Abby Hakewill navigate the school course of. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

However the faculty is an hour-and-a-half drive from her rent-controlled condo in Menlo Park. Ward mentioned she couldn’t discover a landlord in San Rafael who would hire to her on her wage, so she made the tough choice to cut back to 2 days per week beginning in January. To make ends meet, she has continued half time at Alto Worldwide College and as an unbiased faculty counselor for personal purchasers.

At Menlo-Atherton, Ward labored with a pupil named Melody De La Quintana. The primary-generation faculty pupil is now a enterprise administration and political science main at College of Redlands, a school Ward recommended. “If Brad hadn’t given me the recommendation to go see the college in individual, I don’t suppose I might have ended up the place I’m now,” she mentioned.

De La Quintana mentioned Ward was her sole supply of details about increased training. “My dad and mom have by no means been to varsity,” she mentioned. “They don’t know the method.”

One other former pupil, Lauren Lutge, mentioned Ward was the one grownup in school who really believed in her. Lutge’s grades had dropped in her early highschool years because of psychological well being struggles, and he or she didn’t know what to do after commencement. “I didn’t have any path,” she mentioned.

Lutge was stunned when Ward appeared motivated to assist her by way of the school course of. “Brad was an individual on campus that I felt like genuinely cared about me,” mentioned Lutge, now an English main at Santa Barbara Metropolis Faculty.

Since Terra Linda closed, Ward has traded her three-hour commute for a digital counseling workplace arrange in her lounge, which she’s plastered with faculty posters from across the nation.

She misses her college students, and is nervous about these she hasn’t but been capable of contact. A few of her seniors are rethinking the place they need to go to varsity, or deciding in the event that they need to take a niche 12 months. Others are questioning if they should forgo faculty and as a substitute work to help their households. She’s internet hosting an internet workshop on neighborhood faculty purposes later within the month and expects that extra of her college students may have a look at two-year faculties nearer to dwelling.

As soon as shelter-in-place orders are lifted, Ward mentioned she and her colleagues will go door to door to trace down college students who’ve fallen by way of the cracks. They might additionally open the college for just a few days over the summer season for college kids looking for assist with their post-graduation plans.

Whereas some issues might be carried out on-line, mentioned Ward, “it is not the identical as standing within the hallway and being seen.”

This story about faculty counselors was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, unbiased information group targeted on inequality and innovation in training. Join for our increased training e-newsletter.

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