In my small community of just under 50,000, a chasm divides those who pursued post-secondary training and those who did not finish high school or hold a high school diploma. That chasm is ever-widening, but not impassable.
As a college and career counselor with the Niswonger Foundation, I serve four area high schools in Upper East Tennessee. Two of the main goals of my position are to create a college-going culture and to remove barriers that hinder post-secondary education for every student.
The term “college” doesn’t just mean a four-year university degree; it encompasses any and all post-secondary training. My hope is that my presence in these schools encourages, creates, and facilitates a community of higher expectations in students and also in professional educators.
Among several opportunities, my husband and I chose my hometown near Kingsport, TN, as a place to live and raise our children. We enjoy living near family, the mountains, smaller towns, and low crime rate. I enjoy working with students and educators in our community to tap the rich, unique resources here—resources of intellect, emotional intelligences, and artists. These resources are underutilized because of the barriers to education that seem insurmountable to some.
My heart aches as I counsel those who face the challenges of weak curricula, poverty, poor infrastructure, lengthy distances to educational centers, little to no emotional or monetary support from parents, drug abuse, and the lack of resilience that must be nurtured from a young age.
My personal mission is not so much to tear down these barriers (though we are making headway) but to encourage and inspire my students to tear them down individually, paving the way for those that follow their trailblazing efforts.
This way, we have changed the culture, leaving in our wake the mindset that all people can achieve and all can succeed.
Career Counselor in Sullivan County, TN.
The Niswonger Foundation’s Northeast Tennessee College and Career Ready Consortium of 15 school districts in Appalachia is supported by an Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund grant.