By Sanai Rashid, Anna Mintzer, and Olivia Ruiz
The four guidance counselors of Beacon — Ms. Zanki, Ms. Scheff, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Shriki, are here for Beacon students. Thankfully, we have all come a long way since the pandemic hit. Now, walking in the brisk morning air before class and joking with friends in the cafeteria has replaced last year’s norm of deliriously logging onto Zoom classes and eating lunch alone in our bedrooms. However, this transition was not easy. Beacon guidance counselors have helped and continue to aid our student body with this re-adjustment and any other concerns we might need assistance on.
Nevertheless, there still seems to be a disconnect between Beacon teens and the counselors here to assist us. Although guidance counselors are here specifically to help students in all aspects of our lives, many of us have never met our counselors or may not even know who they are. Reading the Guidance Counselors Office Mission Statement on the school website is undoubtedly helpful. However, to foster an even close connection with our counselor’s students should know more about the people guiding them through school troubles, socio-emotional issues, post-secondary needs, and everything in between that will help them be better humans. So, three members of the Beacon Beat — the co-editor in chief of the paper, Sanai Rashid, as well as staff writers Anna Mintzer and Olivia Ruiz, interviewed Ms. Zanki, Ms. Sheff, Ms. Smith, and Ms. Shriki to learn more about the faces, personalities, and identities behind Beacon’s support team.
Ms. Zanki (Last Names A-D)
Sanai Rashid: Tell me a bit about yourself! What brought you to Beacon and how long have you been working here?
Nevena Zanki: This is my eighth year at Beacon. While I was earning my degree in counseling, I was a paraprofessional at the school, and I transferred over to a guidance counselor position two years later. I always envisioned myself working in an elementary school, but once I started working in a high school I loved the experience. With high school students, you can have conversations with them, and they’re mature enough to process and talk about their thoughts.
SR: You work with a lot more students as a guidance counselor than as a paraprofessional. How did you navigate that shift?
NZ: It’s been similar, but different things come up with various people. For example, when I used to work with students with IEPS, some of them had mandated counseling and I would schedule to see them once a week. Whereas now, as a guidance counselor, I deal with everything and different situations.
SR: What university did you go to and did you always know you wanted to be a guidance counselor?
NZ: I went to St. Francis College in Brooklyn and always knew I wanted to work in a school. I could have benefited from some counseling support and services when I was in high school. When I realized what was missing for me, I knew I wanted to transition over into the guidance counselor realm.
SR: How has the transition back to in-person counseling been? I know during the pandemic there was a Guidance Counselor Google Classroom but obviously, virtual interactions differ from in-person communication.
NZ: Being remote was hard to see students. When you’re in the building, students are accessible — they come to you and walk into your space. But when you’re remote, it’s an extra step to reach out to someone and then set up a Zoom call. For counseling, this is much better. During the pandemic, I actually moved into the room I am currently in. My TA, Jade, has helped me decorate and I have inspirational wall and a bulletin board with students’ selfies where people can take a photo with a polaroid.
SR: I’m sure new goals arise each year, but during the 2021-2022 school year, what is one of your goals as a counselor in Beacon?
NZ: To meet most of my students. It’s probably impossible to connect with four hundred students, but meeting them and knowing who I am and where I am is essential. Even if students don’t need to come and see me, I want them to know where my space is and that I’m here.
SR: Lastly, what is one fun fact you want students to know about you?
NZ: I go hiking once a year and I cross stitch about once a year. So my hobbies don’t happen often, but they happen sometimes and I keep up with them!
SR: I know there’s a hiking club at Beacon, so I’m sure many students also love the activity.
NZ: Yeah hiking is basically a glorified walk. There are different levels, and I’m at certainly at the basic level but it’s always nice to leave the city for a few hours and go upstate.
Ms. Scheff (Last names E-K)
Olivia Ruiz: What is your day-to-day like?
Lauren Scheff: My day-to-day is different every single day, which is something that I really like. I think that there’s times of the year that are super busy, so at the beginning of the year, when semesters change, with schedules that can be really busy. Different things happen on a day-to-day basis, so maybe it’s a student mediation, maybe it’s talking to a student who’s feeling overwhelmed, maybe it’s trying to welcome someone back into the school who was away for a little while or did a semester somewhere else, but each day can bring something new. I always try to make sure that everyone on a day-to-day basis is being academically successful and being supported emotionally as well.
OR: What is one goal you have as a counselor at Beacon?
LS: The base of my job is making sure that students are doing as well as possible and providing the support that they need and deserve. I think high school can be really hard for students, and my goal is to always be approachable and make a safe space for students to be able to come to me. Something that led me to this job was that I knew I wanted to work with students and people in general.
OR: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
LS: Every day is sort of an adventure, and I really like that about the job. I think ultimately what I enjoy most about the job is getting to know people, and seeing their successes and their progress. That doesn’t mean only being there for them when things are really good, it’s being there for them through their whole journey through high school. It’s really exciting to see someone who maybe had a harder time freshman or sophomore year, and then senior year be super successful and be leading a club and be able to graduate on time and live a successful life. Obviously, we want you to enjoy your time in high school, but to prepare you for the real world after is just as important.
OR: What inspired you to go into counseling?
LS: Something that’s really, really important to me is access, and I think that for some students or individuals in general, going to seek mental health support or any type of support outside of their already very busy days of school, work, jobs can be daunting or overwhelming. Unfortunately, there are still some stigmas of receiving mental health support so providing support and an extra boost of confidence for students was what led me to school counseling specifically — overall being a person they can rely on in a place that they should feel comfortable in is my goal and what led me to school counseling. I think that we spend so much of our time in school every single day, it would be hard to come here and not feel that you have people there who are rooting for you, or who can listen to you, or who genuinely care about you.
OR: What room can students typically find you in? What are other spaces where students can visit for additional support?
LS: Students can find me usually in 301, it’s sort of in the corner, hidden away from the elevator. Please always come in, my door’s always open! If I’m not here, send me an email. I check it very, very regularly, but, if not, I’m probably in another counselor’s office. There’s a counselor on every floor, so I’m on the third floor along with Social Worker Ms. Sam, Ms. Martinez-Smith is on the fourth floor, Mr. Shriki is on the fifth floor, and Ms. Zanki is on the sixth floor. There’s support everywhere. I would say in general, if I’m not here, check the other counselor’s office first, but also just send me an email or ask any teacher and they can always contact me, but 301 is the best place to find me!
OR: What college did you go to, and did you want to be a guidance counselor during university?
LS: I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, and I did always want to be a guidance counselor. I was very close with my high school guidance counselor, I still am in contact with her, and I knew that that was a career that I wanted to pursue so I studied psychology and counseling.
OR: What is one fact you want students to know about?
LS: I am a Trader Joe’s snackaholic! I always have snacks. I also really love tie-dye. I know it doesn’t always come through in school day-to-day, but I like to do tie-dye, I think it’s just a burst of energy and fun; sort of like a fun spirit for everyone.
Ms. Martinez-Smith (Last Names L-Q)
Anna Mintzer: Tell me a little about yourself!
Karen Martinez-Smith: I’m going to talk first about what attracted me to this job. I was a New York state correctional officer straight out of college, I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology. Back when I was 22 I wanted to be a parole officer and then eventually my goal was to be a New York State inspector for all of the prisons and if not that I wanted to go into the FBI or the DEA. When I worked in Bedford Hills they had a nursery for women who had class D or E felonies, and if they were pregnant they were allowed to keep their children with them after they had given birth for up until two years. After being assigned there temporarily, it kept bothering me and making me sad that these women were coming in and having children and no one was there to help them. So I started to realize that I did not want to be a disciplinarian anymore, I wanted to be on the other side of that, I wanted to help.
AM: How was working at Beacon last year during the pandemic?
KMS: Working here at Beacon last year during the pandemic from home was crazy. I really believe that one of the main parts of our position here is to really help young adults to have a healthy and happy transition, from ninth grade, but even year to year. To help their social-emotional health and build relationships, and in order to do that, we have to build relationships, which is very hard to do through a computer. And also learning a new position, I had worked in a middle school for 16 years. And I did come into the building when we were offered hybrid learning, and I wanted to meet everyone coming in. Since I was new, I am a firm believer in establishing relationships, and I think I did establish very good relationships in the latter part of last year.
AM: So can you always be found in room 422?
KMS: I spend my time in this room, 422, mostly because it is my office, but also because I feel like when I am not in my office I feel like you can’t find me, especially if you need me. It’s just very important for me to always be available to my young adults. So I try not to leave my office unless I have to.
AM: What students do you counsel, besides anyone whose last name is L-Q?
KMS: Any student, even though we are assigned a certain letter of the alphabet. We thought to do that so this way we would be exposed to all four grades, and each grade is unique in what the requirements are to complete. But, regardless if we are assigned to the student or not, if the student walks into this office or any of our offices, all bets are out the window. If you need support, that is what we are here for, support. Anyone that feels like they need to have a conversation or an issue and they need support if they find their way in here, or any of the counselors, we will definitely sit down and have a conversation.
AM: What college did you go to?
KMS: I went to Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry NY for undergraduate and graduate.
AM: And you didn’t want to be a guidance counselor when you were in university, just after university is when you realized?
KMS: Yeah, I got my undergraduate degree, and I was going to go back to school to get my master’s in criminal justice, and then things changed!
AM: Lastly, what is one fact you want the readers of the Beat to know about you?
KMS: That I have an open-door policy and I really enjoy doing what I do. Again, just know I love to build relationships and I want people to trust me enough to have conversations with me and I will do my best to help no matter what the situation is.
Ms. Shriki (Last Names R-Z)
Sanai Rashid: Tell me a little bit about yourself!
Shimona Shriki: I am brand new to Beacon, but I have been a guidance counselor for sixteen years. The pandemic kept students out of the building for over eighteen months and starting a new job during the first school year all students are back in the building surprisingly worked out perfectly. It was a great time to begin in a new building because even if I had gone back to my old school, it would have felt like a fresh start since everyone had been gone for so long. I love being a guidance counselor and in my spare time I love to dance, enjoy live music, photography, eating good food, playing sports, and traveling!
SR: What college did you go to, and did you want to be a guidance counselor during university?
SS: I did not know I wanted to be a guidance counselor as soon as I started university! I’ve been a dancer my whole life, and in college, I was immersed in the world of entertainment and worked in public relations and marketing. I also thoroughly enjoyed working with kids, so I thought, “Maybe I’ll become a teacher!” and went to Hofstra University for undergrad in this field for my first year. I then transferred to Queens College for my 2nd year of college. But as soon as I graduated from QC, I was like, “I don’t want to be a teacher.” I completely changed my mind and also no longer wanted to work in the world of entertainment anymore. It felt like something was missing for me in both fields, and I craved something more rewarding. My mom had always said to me, “You should become a guidance counselor,” and of course, I never listened because who listens to their mother! It turns out she was right. I worked at Mount Sinai Hospital for a while in risk management and went back to school and got my master’s degree in counseling from Queen’s College. After graduation, I found a job as a counselor and immediately knew this career was the perfect fit.
SR: Many Beacon students don’t actually know what guidance counselors do. Can you talk a little bit about your day-to-day in this job?
SS: On a typical day, I assist in everything from students struggling with anxiety and depression to students who need to discuss transcript issues and teacher concerns to issues in their personal life that affect them at school. I also provide grief counseling for students who have lost anyone. In this job, I genuinely touch on everything. When I worked in middle school I used to describe my position to students as “the helping person” in school. If you are a student who wants to talk to me, I have a very flexible schedule, and the most effective way for you to reach me is by sending me an email saying you want to set up a time to meet with me. You can also just pop into my room, as long as I’m not with another student.
SR: What is one of your goals as a new counselor to Beacon?
SS: I want to build relationships with the students on my caseload and ensure everyone has the support they need, especially after a challenging year and a half. Some students have therapists outside of school, but it’s also incredibly beneficial to have someone in the building that you can confide in. So far in my own space, I’ve started a photo wall called “Dissolving Stereotypes.” Students come up with a stereotype that fits something in their life — their religion, gender, race, culture, hobby, etc., and how they don’t fit that stereotype. I love how it showcases diversity and works on making a more inclusive environment here at Beacon by celebrating the differences between everyone. When students and staff come into my room it always generates great conversation and I love how vulnerable everyone who has participated thus far was.
SR: Lastly, I see you have a motivation wall by your desk, with phrases like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and more. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
SS: When I first moved into this room, it was set up very differently than how I have it now. The desk was turned in a different direction, and I worried that I wouldn’t see students. This board beside me was always here, but it was covered in an unpleasant shade of green, so I knew I had to cover it up. Since purple is my favorite color and I love animal print, I used those two shades as the background and put quotes on the rest of the wall. I know it’s a little cheesy, but it’s a work in progress! I have much bigger plans for this wall and my office, so stay tuned!
At times it can be daunting to reach out to a guidance counselor, but the support and encouragement Beacon’s support team can provide outweighs all the apprehension of seeking help. So remember, Ms. Zanki, Ms. Scheff, Ms. Martinez-Smith, and Ms. Shriki are only a classroom away, and their door is always open.