Counselors: The Guiding Light for Costa Students

By Cindy McMahon

“I gave up on school a long time ago….but with your help, now I am on my way to graduate. “

“You have always been on my side, never judging, always helping. You have influenced me to be a better student and person.”

“You have found solutions to problems in my high school life and schedule that I would not have found on my own.”

“With your recommendation to drop down to Algebra 3-4 without trig, instead of suffering through a class that was too difficult for me, I was able to learn at a better pace.”

“My daughter has truly blossomed this year. Thank you for taking her under your wing!”

It’s notes like those – and there are many – that embody the shared goal of the MCHS Counseling Team: “We want to make sure our students feel valued and important, and that they know we care about them,” says Head Counselor Sue Bertran, a 28-year veteran of MBUSD.

The “we” to whom she’s referring includes Bertran and the other four Guidance Counselors – David Beck, Brittney Beauchaine, Corrine Lee-Iwai, and Jennifer Woodie — and Student Academic Support Counselor Cindy Shortt. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with,” Bertran explains. Her background, which includes 8 years as a classroom teacher, contributes to the breadth and depth of the team’s credentials.

In addition to more than 80 years of combined experience in education, they possess a wide array of interdisciplinary backgrounds. All five Counselors have Masters Degrees, as well as Counseling Credentials. Additionally, they have expertise in complementary fields, such as marriage and family counseling, working with at-risk students, school-based drug and alcohol support programs, recreational therapy, and athletics coaching. Even the rookie of the group, Beauchaine (third year on staff at MCHS) has a unique perspective: she attended Manhattan Beach schools, graduated from Mira Costa in 2000 and interned here before being hired.

This team, according to its members, works together like a family and is poised to meet the social and emotional needs of MCHS students – as well as their educational challenges.

“We all know that even a great community like Manhattan Beach isn’t a nirvana,” Bertran explained. “We have issues among our students. There’s a real need for positive solutions and assistance. We are here for them, whether the issue is a big one, such as a life crisis, or a smaller one, such as a scheduling conflict. We’re here to provide a positive outlook, alternatives, options and support with the students’ best interest in mind.”

The counselors serve approximately 500 students each — a heavy load to be sure. However, to keep it in perspective, Jennifer Woodie explains that in one of the Torrance high schools, counselors have an 800-student workload, and are unable to help with college admissions or write letters of recommendation for college-bound seniors.

The MCHS counselors are able to provide support to seniors with invaluable letters – somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 per year. “It’s really fun to write those letters,” Corrine Lee-Iwai explained. “To look through their accomplishments for the four years, and to see where their studies are taking them, is really gratifying.”

“I remember my first year to have seniors that I’d been seeing since they were freshmen,” said sixth-year MCHS counselor David Beck. “It’s like planting seeds and watching them grow from these freshmen kids to these young adults.”

As the needs of students vary widely, the team is continuing to upgrade its use of technology so that their valuable time with students isn’t eaten away by handling questions that can be answered with the click of a hyperlink.

“We’re working to make our website the best source for parent and student information,” said Beck, who has taken the lead on that ongoing project. For instance, the sophomore and junior parent meeting content was made into a Powerpoint with voiceover and posted. “We’ve already had over 700 viewings,” Beck explained.

Beauchaine concurs and adds: “We are here to answer the questions that everyone has. Sometimes people just want a quick answer that the website can provide and we want to make that available to all families. But of course, we are only a phone call away to answer any questions, as well as for the serious matters that need personal contact.”

Personal contact is the lifeblood of counseling – and seeing students overcome obstacles and succeed is the ultimate reward. The team members cherish the letters they receive from students and parents, whether they are thanking them for helping with an emotional ordeal, a decision about whether or not to take advanced classes, or for writing letters of recommendation.

The counselors never really know who is walking through their door next, and with what issue. Often, their relationship is long-term, and they meet frequently throughout the student’s high school career. “I had one student who had really struggled, and it was looking like he wouldn’t graduate. But he worked so hard, and finally made it. When we saw each other on the field at his graduation, we both cried,” says Woodie, also a Mira Costa parent and alumni.

“They make us laugh, they make us cry,” Bertran confirms with a smile. “Our students are interesting, intelligent – great kids. We’re blessed to be working with these young people – and with each other.”

Beauchaine sums it up: “I love my job. It’s difficult sometimes, but when we see our students’ success, it is truly rewarding.”

MBEF is a proud supporter of the MCHS Guidance program. Donations and grants make it possible for MBUSD to employ a five-member team and an academic support counselor for the 2010-11 school year. On behalf of the more than 2,400 students at Mira Costa High School, MBEF thanks our donors for their contribution to this invaluable service. Thank you for helping to give every child every chance.

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About Manhattan Beach Education Foundation

Manhattan Beach Education Foundation is an independent 501 (c) 3 non-profit established by parents and community leaders to support quality public education in Manhattan Beach. Since 1983, MBEF has granted much needed funds to supplement state funding and has helped MBUSD continually rank in the top three school districts in California. With more than 3,000 donors and annual grants exceeding $5 million, MBEF is one of the oldest and most successful foundations in the state.