This past year has left us all with a lot of time to reflect. Recently, I have been reminiscing on my experiences just a few years ago. I was in a rural high school and the first in my family to apply to college. I had no clue what I was doing and my school did not have a college adviser to help navigate the process. Remembering the stress and frustration from that time inspires me to be a resource for students today. Students are now experiencing these feelings even more intensely while dealing with the uncertainty of when they may be able to return to school and how their first year of college may look. I have seen so much hope, positivity, love, and resilience in students, and I feel honored to be on this journey with them as a member of the Caroling College Advising Corps.
When I started in this role, I envisioned what life would look like as a college adviser. I pictured myself walking through the halls of a school where students and staff all knew my name. I pictured going to football games, awards day, graduation, and anywhere else that I could support my students. I pictured students popping into my office just to say “hi”, and holding events to help them with FAFSA and college applications. So far, my experience has turned out to be quite different. I am starting my role in a new partnership in the midst of a global pandemic. During my first days, the reality was that no one knew my name, my purpose, or what the Carolina College Advising Corps is about, simply because I am the first adviser to serve in my county.
Forming and developing these new relationships with students, staff, and community partners is a primary focus when starting in a new partnership. However, the way I conceptualize forming relationships has had to shift. All of our students have been in remote learning the entire year, and I have been offering virtual advising. I have only set foot in the school a handful of times since starting this role, and when I did, there were no students present and every teacher was in their respective classroom. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to build rapport and foster new relationships entirely through a computer screen. I leveraged helpful advice from fellow CCAC advisers and the school administration to assist me with navigating a virtual space.
Collaboration with the school administrators and teachers has been imperative for my student outreach. I wanted to make myself known very early on so that our students would be aware that I am here as a resource for them. During the first few weeks, most of my time was spent introducing myself to staff and students on every virtual platform possible, while creating helpful content that students could access from their own homes. After emailing several teachers and receiving warm welcomes, many of them were open to letting me introduce myself or give a presentation in their Zoom classes. With virtual class time being so limited and important, I am beyond grateful that the school staff has helped me get in contact with students and promote the mission of the Carolina College Advising Corps, as well as work together with assisting student achieve their dreams.
In, reflecting, there have been key people that have helped me thrive, stay the course, and think big. As mentioned the school staff has been amazing, but one key individual has pushed and pulled me since day one. My on-site facilitator, Mrs. Matthews. She has been incredible in helping me succeed and be a better advocate for our students. She allows me to work closely with her so that we can help our students as a team, and make sure they know that we are here to support them even if we cannot see them face-to-face. We have offered joint virtual advising appointments, office hours, FAFSA nights, and recorded sessions to walk students through various aspects of the application process. Additionally, one individual has helped me better understand this role on a larger scale. That is our Assistant Superintendent, Mrs. Boone. She has continually made sure I am aligned with the values and supporting the big picture in the community. The staff at Gates County High School has already done so much for me, and I am excited to see how these relationships will continue to grow as we help our students succeed.
Starting this role in a new partnership is simultaneously challenging and exhilarating. On one hand, it can be difficult since students and staff aren’t familiar with what we do. There was little structure outlining collaboration and partnership and the students had no idea I existed. On the other hand, it’s exciting because I get to build this relationship from the ground up with the school and community partners. I am honored to be the first adviser here because I am able to set the precedent for future advisers that will come to Gates County and be an example of why this partnership is so valuable.
Savannah Gilbert, Gates County High School, Gates County