College/career counselors guide students to future paths

MADISON – The College and Career Readiness Team members for Madison City Schools were recent guests for “Sittin’ With the Supe,” a podcast series by Dr. Ed Nichols, MCS Superintendent.

Nichols’ guests were Kaleb Owens, MCS Career Coach, and College and Career Readiness Coaches Lana Meskunas from James Clemens High School and Dr. Stephanie Bostick at Bob Jones High School.

These counselors explain options for students after graduation. The team also shares helpful tips for families, especially for financial aid.

At the University of Alabama, Bostick earned a bachelor’s degree in special education, master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate’s degree in educational leadership policy and law.

A native of Plano, Texas, Meskunas received a bachelor’s degree in home economics at Texas Tech in Lubbock and a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

“I have counseled kindergarten all the way up through twelfth grade. I help students decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives,” Meskunas said.

Originally from Anniston, Owens attended Gadsden State Community College and transferred to the University of North Alabama for a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After college, he worked as recruiter and academic advisor at Calhoun Community College.

Nichols asked about the counselors’ primary goal. “The main goal for a college and career counselor is to help children have a plan after graduation from high school,” Meskunas said. “We work with ninth through twelfth grade on college exploration, entering the work force and military recruitment.”

“A big challenge (exists) for students who aren’t sure what they want to do. They feel pressure about a major. We tell them that they can always start at a community college and then enter a four-year school,” Bostick said.

Owens schedules guest speakers from colleges and representatives from local industries, like Mazda Toyota, to discuss the job market.

“James Clemens has had career seminars. Parents will give a ‘guided tour’ of their job. They include the education they must have, job duties and salary,” Meskunas said.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is an important form for students, the counselors said. Prospective college students complete FAFSA to determine their eligibility for financial aid. The state requires that all students fill out FAFSA or sign a waiver if they don’t enter college, Nichols said.

“Parents submit their tax information for FAFSA, but, at the school level, counselors don’t see (financial) information,” Meskunas said. “Many colleges, like Calhoun Community College, require FAFSA for a scholarship.”

In addition, students interested in work study must complete FAFSA paperwork.

After constraints during COVID-19, the ACT has regained importance. “Students should take ACT after completing algebra II with trigonometry or in fall of their junior year so they can look closely at scores and work to get a better score,” Bostick said. In spring of their junior year, students will take ACT for free; the state pays for this testing. Then, students will take ACT one more time during the senior year.

Nichols asked the counselors for one note of advice for college/career decisions. “Ask a lot of questions and explore your options. Lots of students don’t know that they want to do, but they can job shadow or get an internship and observe people in their job,” Owens said.

“A test score doesn’t define who you are,” Bostick said. “It’s not about where you begin, it’s about where you end. You have to show up and work hard to be successful.”

Meskunas advised starting early to prepare for college. “Visit college campuses during school breaks and talk to department heads in the major that you want,” she said.

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