Jessica Staiger waited five years after earning her undergraduate degree to pursue her goal of becoming a school counselor. Academics didn’t come easily to her, she said. And once out of college returning to school while also balancing work felt daunting. With encouragement from her husband, though, she went for it.
As she applied to graduate programs, the pandemic hit. Staiger lost her retail job of 11 years. That was the confirmation she needed that she’d chosen the right time to return to school.
She started the Saint Rose graduate program in school counseling a year ago, in September 2020. Despite having to take classes via Zoom from her home in Kingston, Staiger became immersed in her studies and clear about her choice.
“I knew from middle school that I wanted to be a counselor. I wanted to be the person in the student’s corner that I didn’t have,” said the 28-year-old Staiger, 28, who is on track to graduate with her degree and certificate advanced study in 2023.
“It’s much more than schedule changing,” she added. “It’s creating relationships with our students based on empathy and trust. It’s about educating them on social skills that they may not learn in their home life. Being the person to teach them these skills is vital to their success in adulthood.”
Her commitment and her academic performance recently earned Staiger a competitive scholarship from the New York State School Counselor Association. She is one of just three students across the state to do so, earning a $1,000 grant and recognition at the organization’s upcoming annual conference in November.
In addition to strong grades and a letter of recommendation, she was asked to write an essay explaining how she would help move her evolving field forward.
Staiger had little trouble answering. Traditional “guidance counselors,” she noted, advise middle and high school students on classes and college and career options with little investment in that individual’s social or emotional background. Today, though, school counseling links academic success to a wider understanding of factors that shape the person, including any talents and barriers outside the classroom.
In a class with Professor Claudia Lingertat, she learned about the importance of providing counselors in elementary school. Given her own struggles in school and hesitation about returning she believes she would have benefited from support at a younger age.
“In my scholarship essay, I spoke about the challenges children are facing more so than ever with the pandemic. With the current New York state regulations, a school counseling program must be in place at the elementary level,” she explained. “However, there does not need to be a (certified) school counselor implementing it. It seems crazy, right?”
Staiger also wrote another priority of a Saint Rose education: the need to help shape the world around her students.
“I spoke about staying up to date on social justice issues and ensuring I’m proactive with my students, instead of reactive,” Staiger said. “This concept is something all professors in the counseling department have stressed to us students.”