By Micaela Pereyra
Every morning, school counselor Christina Conoscenti pushes past the heavy doors of Wethersfield High School at around 7:15, carrying her bags, and occasionally fumbling with her keys. Even at this ungodly hour, she manages to greet students and coworkers with a bright smile, her kind and youthful demeanor radiating as she makes her way to the guidance office.
Her office is bright even on cloudy days; a large window overlooking the school’s main entrance allowing a generous amount of light in. There is cute art drawn by her children decorating the walls; pictures of her family spread throughout the small room. But what makes her students feel welcomed are the posters showing her support for different communities.
Among the ones that stand out is a yellow equality sign on a blue background from the Human Rights Campaign, a widely popular symbol that is used to represent the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community. The other is larger in size with white bolded and capitalized letters from the Connecticut Students for a Dream organization that advocates for undocumented immigrant students in the state.
Seeing her so comfortable in her work environment gives off an aura that she’s had her life figured out, that she has always known she would end up being a counselor. But, that isn’t exactly the case. In fact, she was in the same boat as many current high school students: she had no clue what career she wanted to pursue.
“I floundered a lot in college to figure out where I was going to land.” Then, she laughed. “It was a mess, such a mess,” she mumbled, shaking her head.
It’s difficult to picture Conoscenti anywhere that isn’t a guidance office. Despite this, she spent ten years reading, writing, and editing manuals for jet engines and hydrogen fuel cells prior to becoming a guidance counselor. She reached a turning point when she took a human development class, “I was like, I don’t want to work with adults, I want to work with younger kids,” she said. “That’s really kind of where I feel I would be best served.”
Although it was a rocky path to where she is now, having to take substitute teaching and counseling positions to build her resume, finding her first full-time counseling job at a school an hour away from where she and her family lived, she has found her home in WHS and in her students as well. Conoscenti said, “I had ten years in a job I hated, so to be in a job that you really like and that is meaningful to you is life changing.”
So, what does she love most about being a guidance counselor? She only had to think about it for a moment, perking up as she responded. “Any time someone walks through the door I have no idea what it’s going to be, that’s what I find most interesting,” she said. “It could be someone’s good day and we could have a great conversation or they could come in, close the door and start crying.” She pursed her lips into a straight line and nodded, “As hard as that is emotionally, I love that it’s so different every single day.”
The emotional stability needed for a career in guidance counseling isn’t often thought of by people outside the profession. Guidance counselors typically build relationships with their students from freshman year all the way to senior year. They are people who many students are able to find trust and reliability in, and sometimes they are the only adults that students can confide and tell personal details to.
Conoscenti makes this relationship between counselor and student extremely easy to build. She is warm and empathetic, almost always has her door open, and is willing to listen fully to any issues a student may be troubled with. However, with this closeness comes concern, and oftentimes she finds herself thinking about her students outside of work, “I care about you guys and I want you guys to all do well and when things aren’t going quite right I worry.” She sounds like she’s on the verge of tears. She continues, “That is definitely one of the most challenging things about this job for me because I’ll be home with my kids and thinking about my students, and I really have to try and separate that and be more present for my family.”
One would think that after years of being a guidance counselor the job would get emotionally easier, but it doesn’t. Regardless of this, Conoscenti is able to turn these difficult experiences into productive self growth. She is always finding ways to better herself as a person so that she can connect more deeply with her students. In doing this, she not only watches as her freshman become seniors, but she grows with them as well.
A perfect example of this returns to one of the previously mentioned posters hung on her wall, a poster that has helped undocumented students open up to her about their status. The poster hasn’t always been there, she acquired it two years ago at a workshop for undocumented students, making it a relatively new addition to her office. “It was really eye opening for me because I went in with all these preconceived notions of what I thought it was,” she said, “I became informed, I became an advocate. It was life changing.”
Since then, Conoscenti has seized every chance to attend a workshop for the sole purpose of learning more and educating herself on different topics and issues. This mindset helps her constantly evolve into a well-rounded individual, a guidance counselor who is able to provide even more assistance and comfortability for her students. She said, “Now anytime there’s an opportunity to go to a workshop and get more information I go because I want to hear more.”
Conoscenti is an asset to the WHS student community. She is constantly working to make her students feel as comfortable and prepared for life outside of high school as she can, and it shows. Her love for her job is evident to those that surround her and she pours passion into everything that she does. She was truly made to do this job, and she thrives in it.
For any student who is about to graduate and doesn’t know what they want to do in life, Conoscenti offers a bit of advice, “As long as you’re working towards something that’s a goal or is something that you enjoy, it’s okay if it changes because you’re always working towards bettering yourself. Who cares if you start in computer information systems and end up in school counseling? That’s your journey.”
Though everything may seem stressful now, there will be a day where life seems to figure itself out. Eventually, your path will emerge, just as guidance counselling did for Conoscenti.
Thank you, Mrs. Conoscenti, for everything that you do.