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Flying First Class

by Jeff Makris
02/27/15 Bookmark
Jeff Makris

Jeffrey C. Makris is the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology's  first Director of College Counseling.  He served as the Director of College Counseling at the High School of Economics and Finance since 2004 after beginning his school counseling career there in 1999 as a guidance counselor. Jeffrey has been active in the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling, and the College Access Consortium of New York, Inc. In June of 2009 he completed a three -year term on the Executive Board of NYSACAC as Co-Chair of the School - College Relations Committee, and in June of 2011 he was awarded the NYSACAC Distinguished Service Award.   In July of 2012 he completed his term as Chair of CACNY, Inc.'s Board of Directors after serving on the Board for four years. For five years Jeffrey taught Counseling the College Bound Student, a graduate level course introducing students to the college counseling profession, for the University of California, Los Angeles through the UCLA Extension program.    He earned his BS in Psychology from Binghamton University, S.U.N.Y. and his MSEd in School Counseling from Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. 

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“Oops”

One of my colleagues at The Urban Assembly drops by the College Office at my school every week or two to lend a very much appreciated helping hand.  She was checking on one of my students, “Fatoumata”, who was among the very first of my students to start the CUNY application early in the fall.  I was at my desk as they worked.  After a few minutes, I heard my colleague say something that sounded a lot like “oops”.

“Mr. Makris, it looks like Fatoumata finished her CUNY app…but she accidentally submitted it.”  Inside, I groaned. I always ask kids to allow me to proofread apps before submission, as it helps to avoid mistakes, sometimes really big ones that can be tedious to fix. It is not uncommon to see students forget to enter or enter the incorrect social security number, apply for the wrong semester, or ignore/mishandle the SEEK section’s income questions…all of which will have serious implications for the eventual admission decisions and the financial aid process. 

I took a quick look at the summary, and was relieved to see that Fatoumata’s app was okay.  And then we realized that something very significant had just happened.  You see, Fatoumata was the first student to submit a college application at my school.  Not just this year…EVER. This is our first graduating class. 

There’s nothing like the first time!

The smile on my principal’s face upon hearing about Fatoumata was dwarfed by better firsts that came along as the months went by…our first college acceptance (Gustavus Adoplhus College), for example, or our first Posse Foundation Scholarship winner.  She told me she cried when she heard this news, and asked if I did too.  “Makris? Cry?” my Assistant Principal, with whom I had worked for years at my former school, asked.   “Please.  This is old hat to him.” she smiled.  

It’s true; I have worked with many graduating classes and tend respond to college admissions successes and failures more even keeled than perhaps I did early in my career…but even this grizzled veteran grasped the significance of this accomplishment by this amazing young man.  Our school community buzzes with excitement at our school wide Core Value Awards or senior events.  What is happening here is brand new for our students, and really, for all of us here at U.A.G.  

Meanwhile, behind the curtain…

“But can he graduate?” one of our guidance team members asks, almost pleading for the answer she hopes to hear.  “Mathematically, can he do this by June?” “Technically, it’s possible” I respond “But he’s fallen way behind and it’s going to be very difficult.”  We spend more time figuring out how and when this student can take all that he needs to complete this year, and then move on to the next case. 

This is a snap shot from one of our many long, arduous, sometimes even contentious meetings about the prospects for the Class of 2015.  Not all of our firsts will be positive. 

Behind all of the excitement of is a cold, hard truth; we will all be judged by what happens to this class.   Our graduation rate, college readiness rate, college enrollment, etc. will be heavily scrutinized, and no one will pat us on our backs for trying if the results aren’t something to be proud of.   We want to see the stage full of happy graduates in June, all ready for life after high school, all off to college in the fall… both for them, and for us. 

The First Class Syndrome

I’d heard about this from colleagues who had worked with their school’s first graduating classes.  Some complained of a powerful, unhealthy sense of entitlement in these first classes which was in no small part the unintended result of the unprecedented love and attention they received by being the first class in their respective schools. No older students mentored them, offered cautionary tales, or forced them to check their egos.  Imagine “senioritis” starting in the ninth grade!

I see some of this in my own seniors now, and a lot less in the lower grades.  It has at times made them harder to work with.  It has cost some opportunities that they might have had otherwise.  Many admit they may have taken less for granted had they not been the hottest kids on the block since the moment they walked in. 

Lessons Learned

We know this is a special year in our school’s existence, and that we have will have many more successes and failures in the coming months.   Working with this first class has taught all of us invaluable experiences that will help our school continue to develop, and thrive, in years to come.   We adjust staff roles, course offerings, even our daily schedule as we see what has worked, and what hasn’t.   In the future we will start reinforcing the importance of adhering to deadlines, particularly with regard to the college process, well before the senior year.  Our staff is debating the pros and cons of carrying an annualized calendar and a rotating daily class schedule. We continue to revisit and enhance our disciplinary protocol to make sure we can successfully maintain our school culture as we grow.

I am happy to say I am indeed very optimistic about what we’ll see in June…and that Fatoumata got accepted to a college a few days before my writing this blog.   However things turn out, working with the first class is unique. This will have been a tremendous learning experience for our entire school community.  

What was it like working with your own first graduating class?   What advice can you offer to those counselors working with their or their high school’s first class?

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