February 1-5 is National School Counseling Week. School counselors are an essential component of a child’s education. Counselors act as valued resources for academic advancement and achievement, advocates for each student’s well-being and an important asset to develop social skills needed to succeed both in school and post-grad. Outside of supporting social, emotional and academic needs of students, counselors help students further explore their interests and probable career paths.
Questar III is fortunate to have three outstanding school counselors who, collectively, have 57 years of experience working with the BOCES. Sally Lauletta, Lisa Gilbert and Caitlin Preisner each play a vital role in all of our students’ successes.
Lauletta began her career with Questar III in 1992 as a case manager with the Adult Education program at the ACCESS Center in Troy where she counseled at-risk youth and young adults in academic and job counseling. In 2008, Lauletta became the school counselor and transition coordinator for Questar III’s Special Education program.
As a school counselor and transition coordinator, Lauletta has a variety of responsibilities including meeting with students for academic advisement and transition planning; coordinating with students’ case managers on Office for People with Developmental Disabilities services; ensuring students are earning hours toward the Career Development Occupational Studies credential and have an employability profile in their portfolio to assist them with obtaining employment; meeting with parents, teachers and principals to discuss student progress and much more.
As Lauletta reflected on her years with Questar III, she said there have been many projects she has worked on that give her a great sense of pride, but the project she is most proud of is the establishment of the Robin Sobol Transition Academy (RSTA).
“It started with an idea and became a reality in the 2014-15 school year,” Lauletta explained. “The idea was to establish a transition program which would allow students, aged 18- 21, the experience of being on a college campus while participating in work-based learning, independent living skills, service learning opportunities and community events.”
The transition program fosters independence, job readiness, life skills, communication skills and the ability to problem-solve. Lauletta and former Special Education Director Robin Sobol collaborated with the Russell Sage College administration to build the program, and in September 2014 the transition program began and was housed at Russell Sage College. RSTA moved to the Capital Region Arts Center in Troy in September 2016 but maintains a strong connection with the Russell Sage community.
Lauletta noted the importance of teamwork in continuing to service students. “Chris Miller has been the teacher for the RSTA program from the start, and together with the social workers, teaching assistants, Jon Levine (work-based learning coordinator) and myself, the program has continued its goal of helping students achieve their highest level of independence. This program has made a positive difference in the lives of our students,” said Lauletta.
Lauletta’s most enjoyable aspect of her career is working with students. Lauletta provides guidance to students with the goal of students achieving their greatest level of success and works with students to plan and set goals for life after high school.
“I enjoy being part of the team of teachers, social workers, teaching assistants, principals and related staff to help our students achieve their greatest potential,” said Lauletta. “I work with amazing educators, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of an exceptional team of professionals. The staff is dedicated to our students, and their growth in academics, self-awareness and development of social-emotional skills.”
Gilbert has been a school counselor at the Rensselaer Educational Center (REC) for 21 years. Prior to being with Questar III, she ran conflict resolution groups through the Law, Order and Justice Center in Schenectady City Schools and taught computer-assisted instruction at Saddlewood Elementary School in South Colonie Central School District for three years while earning her master’s in school counseling.
Gilbert was inspired to become a school counselor through a personal experience. Gilbert originally attended college to become a veterinarian and realized it was not the right career path for her. “Reflecting back on my own experiences with my (high school) counselor, I wished that she had really taken the time to go over my grades and the requirements to actually become a veterinarian with me before encouraging me and spending thousands of dollars,” said Gilbert. Today, Gilbert works to help students so they do not have the same experience.
Gilbert has a number of responsibilities in her role. Some responsibilities include maintaining communication with component school district counselors regarding students; providing support to REC’s principal, teachers, parents and staff; counseling students for personal issues, college, career and financial aid processes; monitoring student progress, attendance and grades; and much more.
The Annual Awards Ceremony is what Gilbert is most proud of in her position. “I love watching the students be recognized for their accomplishments in our programs,” said Gilbert. Gilbert is involved in planning all events at REC, including the Annual Awards Ceremony, and recently worked to create the first virtual ceremony during the 2019-20 school year. Gilbert is also the National Technical Honor Society Advisor and includes an induction into the Society during the ceremony. “I love watching the parents, who are all so proud of their children, and our teachers and staff beaming with pride speaking about (our students). It makes all of the hard work every year worthwhile,” said Gilbert. “It’s a wonderful cumulation of the student’s time with us.”
Gilbert says the most enjoyable aspect of her career is watching students who may struggle in the traditional school setting find their niche and excel in their Career and Technical program. “For many students, it is the first time they are really successful in school, and that can make all the difference in their lives,” explained Gilbert. “It’s a turning point for many kids, and seeing them do what they love and planning a future around that is truly rewarding for me.”
Preisner began her career as a Questar III school counselor at the Columbia-Greene Educational Center (CGEC) during the 2014-15 school year. Before becoming a school counselor, she worked in Questar III’s communications department for two years and covered maternity leaves in Germantown Central School District, Saugerties Central School District and Red Hook Central School District.
Preisner is responsible for working with students and all component districts. She helps students work through personal issues, meet and exceed academic goals and develop successful social skills. Preisner is in constant communication with school counselors from component districts to ensure the transitions between districts and CGEC are seamless and productive for everyone involved.
Preisner, like Gilbert, says she is most proud of her work with the Annual Awards Ceremony and graduation. “It’s a lot to bring together and has many moving pieces, but once it happens, it always makes me proud,” said Preisner. “It’s a great way to acknowledge all the accomplishments of our students and allows their families to witness them be honored for their successes.”
Preisner’s favorite aspect of her career is helping students and the teamwork within Questar III. “I enjoy working with the kids and working with all of my colleagues as a team to help our students reach their full potential.”