Thornton: ‘At Risk’ students may need behavioral, academic or social support

A decade ago, Valencia Thornton, who holds an MBA in healthcare and accounting, made a career change and began working with students. She currently serves as a Site Coordinator at Cedar Shoals High School where she works with teens on academics and behavioral issues while offering the support students need to stay on track for graduation.

FC-CIS spoke with Valencia about her role as a Site Coordinator, the challenges many students face, and how serving as an advocate has enriched her life.

FC-CIS: Many of the students you serve are considered “at risk.” What does that mean to you?

VALENCIA: When asked, I don’t think about the “at risk,” because it can be defined in so many ways. “At risk” could mean a lot of things. It could mean you need a support mechanism. It could mean that you have your family support; however, you need something a little bit extra to get you to graduation. The main point is to get you to graduation. Don’t take it as just academics. It could be behavior or just developing social skills.

FC-CIS: What is a typical day like for you as a Site Coordinator?

VALENCIA: Every day is different. There are two of us in my office at Cedar, and both of us have a split caseload. The good thing about our office is that students don’t know whose caseload they’re on because we do a double team.
We often hear, “We would never come into the counseling office if y’all weren’t here. Please tell me you’ll be here next year because I can’t make it without you.”
So, it’s like family.

FC-CIS: Site Coordinators work with counselors, social workers, teachers, administrators, but serve a unique role. How do you define your position?

VALENCIA: We’re adult mentors, but we do a lot of mediation as well.
We talk to students about their grades or behavior. We even get the reports of “Do you realize I haven’t gotten into trouble since April? And five months ago, I was getting into trouble each week?”

FC-CIS: How do you determine your caseload and what to focus on with students?

VALENCIA: At Cedar Shoals, we have great counselors. They give us a list of challenged students. Whether it’s because of behavior, academics, or social skills- the kids have something that makes them a great candidate. We take the list and look at grades and behaviors and then look at individual students to determine what could hinder them from graduation. That’s the main purpose. We’re trying to help people in the school system- the professionals- get each child to graduation. Counselors, teachers, behavioral specialists, even resource officers do referrals on students.

FC-CIS: Once you determine the issues a student faces, what is the process moving forward?

VALENCIA: The counselors bring them in, and we decide how we build up this student. If it’s behavior, we’ll say, This is the student plan- behavior. This is the student plan- academics. We’re going to help them work out an academic program.
When we call them in to talk academics, it blows their mind because they think they’re done. But then we give them a ray of hope, and you meet a parent, and they say, ‘Thank you.’ And the kids say, “I can’t believe I’m gonna graduate.”

FC-CIS: Do you have a personal story that makes you particularly proud of your work?

VALENCIA: One student had two math classes and still had to take another. If you fail math in the 9th and 10th grades, you don’t get the fundamentals. But you’re still expected to do this 11th-grade math along with 9th and 10th-grade math. She came in and said, “I’m not gonna graduate.” And I said, “Come on, I love math.” I brought my math books from home, and I went to work. My daughter is a math teacher, so I gave her my work cell, and said when you work the problem out, send it to me on my phone. Then, I’ll look at it. If it’s something I can’t do, I’ll send it to my daughter. She would come on her lunch breaks, and she ended up passing. I’d see her in the hall, and she’d say, “I passed!”

FC-CIS: You said it’s not always academics. What about behavior problems, do you support students who need help in that area too?

VALENCIA: We do. We have a group of girls- one got in trouble. They tell you, “I’m trying to stay out of trouble. “ But she got into trouble. That gave me an opportunity- when mom picked her up- to walk out to the car and say, “Let me tell you what she’s done right. Yes. She got in trouble. But her academics are better, and she hasn’t gotten in trouble for six months. She’s trying. And when she comes back, she knows what she needs to do.”

FC-CIS: Do you feel like you’re making a real difference in the lives of these students?

VALENCIA: We have over 100 students, but all groups think it’s just them. We’ve had students to say, “If it weren’t for y’all, I wouldn’t have graduated.”
I love this position. I love working with youth. It’s just fulfilling. I have a Masters degree in Business Administration- accounting and healthcare- and look at me! I’m working with students. I KNOW this is where I should be. I love it!

For more on Valencia’s experiences as a Site Coordinator, please watch the video.

To find out more about Site Coordinators, please visit the Site Coordinators page.


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