Believing in the “At-Promise” Students (#70)

What happens when a male, Latino police officer is encouraged to consider being a school counselor? It comes down to trust and believing, as you’ll learn in this week’s story from Anuar Velazquez.

Encouraging Words for School Counselors
Encouraging Words for School Counselors
Believing in the “At-Promise” Students (#70)
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This Week's Storyteller

Anuar is a first generation student who immigrated to the United States from Mexico with his family in 2003 with a goal of pursuing the “American Dream.” Anuar quickly learned that to reach his dream he would have to break barriers of social injustice. He defied the odds and became the first in his family to graduate college and pursue a graduate program. In 2011 he became a police officer working at Westfield High School, which sparked his passion for working with students. Defying the odds, Anuar is the first in his family to graduate college and will soon be the first to earn a graduate degree as he completes his internship at Westfield High School to earn his Master of Education Degree in School Counseling at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

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Transcript

Matt Fleck:
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success, hoping your Thanksgiving break was a good one and that you’re ready for the countdown to the rest of the holidays. 

This week we have a great story from Anuar Velazquez. Anuar immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 2003. Now, 18 years later, he is studying to become a high school counselor. This is quite a surprise to some of Anuar’s friends – and even to Anuar himself – because his early experiences in school were not only challenging, but negative.  

Anuar Velazquez:
I used to hate school. And now even in my program, I can tell that there’s a passion behind what I’m doing, because I’m more focused in my classes and I’m getting better grades — grades I never even thought I was able to or capable of getting. So, yeah, I’m just, I’m excited. I’m already thinking ahead — maybe for a PhD or something like that — but overall, I’m looking forward to being in the education system. I’m a big social justice advocate and I believe that this is where I can leave a larger footprint behind

Matt:
It comes as no surprise then that Anuar not only has a knack for working with students, he can identify with those who really don’t want to be in school.

Anuar:
So a large portion of the students that I work with now as a mentor, are those that are… their self worth is a little low currently. So a lot of the students that I’m working with fit under that bar. You know, what I like to say is “at promise,” not “at risk,” but “at promise.” So the work that I do with them, it reminds me of the kind of work that I wish somebody would have done with me when I was that age.

Matt:
Before becoming a school counselor, Anuar worked as a police officer – stationed at the very school where he is now a counselor intern. Counselors at the school noticed that Officer Velazquez was able to form strong connections with students. 

Anuar:
So I worked with this student — and this is actually one of the persons that I started working with that made me go into school counseling. I was introduced to this student because he was having issues relating and connecting with people in the school as a freshman. So during the conversation with his counselor, his counselor was able to identify that he’s into boxing. So I brought up boxing in the past and that’s where the connection was made. So I actually started boxing with this student. After school I would box with him and during the school days, we would talk about classes. We would talk about different sports and stuff like that.

Matt:
Anuar not only created a connection with this student, he got to know this student’s older brother – who was a senior at the time – and not quite sure what he wanted to do in the future.  So, one day, Anuar called the older brother into his office.

Anuar:
I was like, “Hey, have you thought about college?” And he was like, “No, I never thought of it. You know, my parents are from a lower income family and [garbled] I would go into construction.” Okay, well, let’s talk about that. Even if you go into construction, what about owning a business and creating your own generational wealth? So we talked a little bit about that and I would just check in and keep asking, “Where are we, how are we doing? Where are we headed? You know, it’s your senior year.” So I got him to believe in himself enough to a point where he said, let me apply for college. Let me see what this is about.

Matt:
And what happened next was a true surprise to the student. 

Anuar:
And he got in, he got in. And so I was like, look, let’s not focus on the price right now. Let’s apply for financial aid. That’s the next step.

Matt:
To do this, Anuar first worked with the student’s family, who were afraid they could not afford college. He walked the family through the steps of applying for financial aid, helped them apply, and waited to see what would happen. 

Anuar:
So he comes in my office and he shows me his financial aid package. And it was $0 — he didn’t have to pay anything. He had this huge smile on his face. And my question to him at the end of all of this was, “Did you trust me?” And he was like, “No, I did. And that’s something that I couldn’t say for my actual school counselor.” He was like, “I never knew that their information was inaccurate,” but he just didn’t believe in it.  

Matt:
Trust is important to Anuar – trusting that students have the ability to succeed no matter their skin color or background – and helping students trust that their school counselors have their best interests at heart. Anuar also feels success has a lot to do with belief. 

Anuar:
It really starts with, I believe that, yes, this is for me too, but yet he may look like me so now I can do something similar to that. Even when I was a police officer, I would see little kids look at me as if I was this alien, like, “Whoa, like I’ve never seen an officer that looks like me.” So I want them to have that experience that you can — it’s not just about looking like me, but it’s also, you can do something that is similar to the things that I’m doing. Yeah. So I hope that my story and my experience can really encourage those students to believe in themselves.

Matt:
Thanks for sharing your story, Anuar. We hope to see more counselors like you because schools and students need you.  

We also hope you’ll take a few minutes to subscribe to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast, tell your friends about or, best of all, decide to contact us to share a story of YOUR experiences as a school counselor. You can record your story any time, night or day, at inspiresuccess.org/soundbooth – or send me a one sentence email about your story idea at matt@inspiresuccess.org

We’re coming up to Christmas and New Years so if you have a story about the holidays that is funny or touching – DEFINITELY let us know.

That’s it for now. Thanks again for listening.

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