(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 ECHO Magazine at Lancaster Bible College.)
“Looking out my bedroom window my whole life, I saw the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and all of those amazing skylines,” said Grace (Cruz ’20) Callirgos. “I never thought that one day, my office would overlook a farm, but it’s gorgeous and I love it.”
After growing up in Manhattan, today Grace serves as a guidance counselor at Solanco High School in rural Lancaster County. She graduated in 2020 with both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree after completing LBC | Capital’s 4+1 Professional School Counseling program and found herself looking at graduation amidst a global pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, we were all scrambling to figure out how we were going to graduate and still meet the hour requirements [for internships],” Grace said. The search for jobs began, and she applied to three opportunities.
One was suggested by LBC | Capital’s Professional School Counseling Program Director Melissa Boas—a position as a high school counselor for Solanco. Grace applied right away, was interviewed in mid-June and, by the end of the month, the position was hers.
Fellow LBC | Capital alumnus and Solanco High School Principal Dr. Scott Long (’06) was impressed by Grace’s ability to bring a high level of energy and enthusiasm to everything she does. “I interviewed other people who had experience, but I felt like she really shined because she was so energetic and passionate about what she wanted to do,” Scott said.
“A lot of people I interview struggle with basic interview skills,” he continued. “[Grace] had well-thought out answers for every question, she had clearly researched our district, and someone had coached her on how to interview well.”
Although many people struggle with which jobs to apply for or even what to study in college, this was never an issue for Grace. Her heart had been set on counseling for many years. This interest began simply as a love for people and a busy social life, but soon was confirmed in other areas of life as well.
Grace worked as a camp counselor for two summers leading up to college and discovered a love for working with high school students. Many of the kids she worked with came from hard home lives or rough backgrounds. For them, school was a place that felt safe and trustworthy.
Grace knew she wanted to create a space for students where they felt safe and valued. Her camp counseling experience solidified what she already knew—she wanted to work with high schoolers in a counseling environment.
FURTHER READING: Meet two more LBC graduates and school counselors who tag-team student support duties at Spring Grove Area High School in York County, Pa. Read more…
During her time thus far at Solanco, Cruz has encountered a unique set of rewards and challenges. The combination of being new to the professional field as well as a yearlong pandemic as she began her career has allowed for plenty of growth.
“I literally drive to work every day, and I am on my way to my dream job. It’s awesome,” Grace said. She shared about the deep privilege it is to walk alongside students and families through both the best and worst parts of their lives.
Another noteworthy role Grace has taken on involves helping as a translator for students who are learning English as a Second Language (ESL). Scott also shared how Solanco’s ESL population has grown considerably over the past few years.
“We had students who didn’t speak English and didn’t have access to their school counselor, so they wouldn’t come [to the counselor],” Scott said. Grace has been able to connect with many of these students, allowing them to have a safe space where they can be understood.
Grace’s influence on ESL students and their families has been significant. “I have a passion for working with them. I’m not 100% fluent [in Spanish], but it’s one of those things that if I can communicate with them on a basic level, they can feel that they have another connection in the building,” she said.
Part of working with these families has been reaching out to parents of ESL students. For instance, when parents have questions about district-wide news or announcements, Grace is there to help. She also started a newsletter for families of ESL students to keep them informed and connected.
Grace credits much of her professional readiness to her professors at LBC. “Melissa Boas helped me grow and learn a lot,” she said. “She did a lot to prepare us—encouraging us to be active participants and taking ownership over our education. She exemplified things I wanted to emulate in myself as a counselor.”
Grace’s professors also taught her the importance of being a lifelong learner. And she is thankful each one of them impressed that lesson on her. She has been encouraged to continue learning regardless of what season of life she is in.
When thinking back on her educational journey, Grace reflects on the importance of being intentional with those with whom she interacts. “The students you work with now are the next generation of thinkers and doers,” she said, “so taking the time to be intentional with them as they establish meaningful patterns in their lives is something not to be taken lightly.”
February 5-9, 2024, is National School Counseling Week!
Lancaster Bible College recognizes all our graduates and current students who are impacting lives in this important and much-needed field.