A Day in the Life of Counselor Leticia Velazco

Caitlin Chen, Editor-in-Chief

Nearly every surface of Ms. Velazco’s office is covered in something. Flyers are taped on the walls, boxes are neatly stacked on the floor, and four cork boards are cluttered with papers. One corkboard is a random compilation of test-taking tips, calendars, and application advice, while another is covered in pictures of graduation and prom photos of previous students and homemade cards. On the board above her desk are the four Irvington school-wide outcomes and a cow mask made out of a paper plate.

These different sections of the room seems to represent the job of Ms. Velazco, who was dressed that day in a neat brown skirt and cardigan and heavy hiking boots, perfectly. Though most students only see their counselors for scheduling changes or college help, she also deals a lot with the emotional issues that students go through, helping them understand their reactions to stress and referring them to outside services.

Wanting students and parents to understand the dangers of academic stress is partly why the counselors are going through a registration powerpoint, the same one Irvington students see each year, with some parents in the cafeteria.

By 8:15, at least 150 parents are sitting in the cafeteria, some taking notes, listening to counselors Velazco, Bennett, Mintey, Serrano, and Abrogado go over graduation requirements and answer questions for more than an hour about service hours and AP classes, warning against taking too many AP classes.

Right after the bell rings to the end of the block period, Ms. Velazco has to disentangle herself from a crowd of still-curious parents to lead an informational session about AP Biology for next year’s prospective students during advisory.

After advisory, she patiently sits through an interview lasting more than half an hour, ignoring a ding from a kettle letting her know that her water is done boiling.

For the counselors, nearly every week is a race against time. In the beginning of the year, counselors are busy correcting scheduling and registering new students. As soon as that’s over, they’re working on writing individual letters of recommendation for each senior who requests one for college applications. Now, the counselors are preparing for the next school year, sending deficiency letters to 11th and 12th grade students who may not be on track to graduate and preparing to distribute registration packets for ninth to 11th graders during class in the coming weeks.

No matter what the task at hand is, however, student health still trumps everything, even deadlines.

“It’s fast-paced, because we need to evolve with student need,” she explains. “We help them as much as we can short-term, then refer to outside local community agencies, like Youth and Family Counseling and Hume Center, and their physician and pediatricians. We help them with anxiety, panic attacks, or if they can’t focus in class. You want to leave work knowing that students are safe and supported. We try to think comprehensively and make sure that support plans are in place.”

As we’re talking, PTSA president Ujjwala Gadgil pokes her head in to ask about the Viking Pride Lunch. Though at lunch, the counselors typically take walks around the Irvington neighborhood together, the administration is attending Viking Pride Lunch today.

“It’s our way to really acknowledge student improvement, the students who have gone above and beyond in effort and demonstrate personal responsibility, social responsibility, communication, and critical thinking, the five Irvington school-wide outcomes,” Ms. Velazco says.

Ms. Velazco attended UC Berkeley to study sociology, and was considering on later studying either law or teaching. Ms. Velazco’s mother, Luzmary Vallejo, grew up in San Francisco. Ms. Vallejo worked toward her bachelor’s degree while raising her family, and Ms. Velazco and her mother received their degrees at the same time. Her father, from Nicaragua, joined the military at 18 before marrying and going to San Francisco State University to become an engineer.

After graduation, she worked for a few years at the San Jose Unified School District as a dropout prevention counselor and obtained her Masters of Education from San Jose State.

“We’re super fortunate to have a great team,” Ms. Velazco says. “We collaborate a lot and help each other, because we all have our own strengths. We make a complete team by collaborating all the time with both academics and emotional support.”