Anna Cruz: CARA Youth Leaders are Becoming College Counselors

Anna Cruz, Youth Leader Bushwick Campus-2009
Anna Cruz, Youth Leader Bushwick Campus-2009 (third from left, seated)

What do you remember about your time as a Youth Leader?

I became a Youth Leader my junior year and immediately fell in love with it. My high school journey was about me finding my voice and that was the outlet I needed to use it in an appropriate way. I was a high achieving student and didn’t always know how to manage that. Being a Youth Leader gave me a positive way to be seen.

I remember the sense of empowerment and adrenaline rush of the events we planned – like field day when we would bring the whole campus together to learn about college. We had camaraderie and were invested in each other’s success.

I wrote about being a Youth Leader in my personal statement for graduate school. I talked about how we had lots of resources in the community but no one in the school was hearing about them. I really liked my counselor but she had too much on her plate. As a Youth Leader I was there to support her vision for her students and fill in the gaps she couldn’t do because of the constraints of her job. No one had the time to show them schools that were outside of their immediate reality – and I got to do that.

How did being a Youth Leader lead you to what you are doing now?

In high school I had no direction as to where I was going. I had cocky arrogance that I could do a lot – but I had no idea what it would be. I was the youngest of three – my older sisters were high performing students and started at two year CUNYs. They needed help finding their path. My parents – they pushed us very hard academically – but I wondered how we were such good students but couldn’t get to where we really wanted to be. When I was a Youth Leader I learned about Eugene Lang College – I liked it and so I applied to and got in with a good package.

Because of all of the skills I learned about advocacy as a Youth Leader, I asked my college if I could do my work-study position with the SSC at my high school. I got to keep helping my community…  I was a psychology major and wanted to be a school psychologist at first – but then I looked into counseling and realized that I had a lot of skills from being a Youth Leader so I decided to pursue a Masters in Counseling after I graduated.

While I was doing my Masters, I became a Parent Coordinator at A. Philip Randolph High School. They ended up having three counselor openings – one for special education, one for the 9th grade, and a college counseling one. The principal really wanted me to do the 9th grade position – he did not know I had been a Youth Leader before. He asked me to give him a good reason for being the college counselor – I said, “I have six years of experience and passion and knowledge.”

Why did you want to bring an SSC to the Randolph campus?

I heard that the DoE was doing an RFP for new SSCs. The principal was hesitant about it – he thought we were doing well. I said, “Our kids deserve more than me.”  I also explained I was a Youth Leader and look at who I became. I said to him, “I am getting older and more irrelevant as the days go by – Youth Leaders are always going to be relevant and approachable. I know that as a counselor maybe I have a wider skill set but I am never going to be the ‘friend’ of a current student and Youth Leaders can be.”