After Awaking in Cold Sweat, New Ramona Counselor Finds His Way Home

December 19, 2009
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Cory "The Counselor" Hanson

Cory "The Counselor" Hanson

Cory Hanson has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Not only does he have a new job, but he absolutely loves it.

That wasn’t always the case. Before he became Ramona Middle School’s new counselor, responsible for counseling half the sixth grade and the entire 7th grade class, and before he entered the counselor master’s program at Azusa Pacific University, he was a salesman for Cintas, a conglomerate that sells everything from uniforms and entrance mats to first aid products and restroom supplies.

I was super unhappy; okay, I hated it,” admitted Hanson, now 25-years-old. “The money was really good, but I felt I was becoming a worse person every day. It felt like they wanted you to do anything to get the sale. The company had a Spartan philosophy. I don’t know exactly how it went; it was something like, ‘Take no prisoners.’”
While Cory, the eager, energetic but quietly miserable sales rep, could get sales, he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Finally, he bolted out of bed one night in a cold sweat and jumped on the Internet to plan his escape from job jail. He found the counseling program at APU, quit Cintas the next day and enrolled as a full-time student a month later.
Better late than never, Hanson figured. He had been a business major as an undergrad at Cal Poly Pomona and earned his degree in that discipline, but it was helping at-risk and underprivileged children one summer in Hawaii after his junior year, that he most treasured.
Like the kids he had once helped, he wanted a second chance in the way of a career change, by taking courses at night and working as a substitute teacher in the day in Azusa and South Central Los Angeles. Then he served as the Reconnecting Youth Teacher and Program Consultant at North Park Continuation High School. Each assignment was bringing him one step closer back to his home town of La Verne.
When word went forth that a counseling position had opened in the Bonita Unified School District, Hanson was on it, like a wolf on a fresh lamb chop. Trouble was, so were 300-plus other applicants, many as equally qualified, experienced and deserving. Hanson felt his quest was meant to be, returning to work in his home town, where he grew up and went to school, including at Ramona Middle School from 1996 to 1998.
“Most people who grow up in small towns are looking for a way out; I was looking for a way back in,” Hanson said.
Exhibiting all the qualities necessary in a proactive counselor, he began calling around and networking, trying to learn exactly what the district was looking for. He talked to teachers, principals and administrators, inside and outside the district, anyone who could help. Many leads and contacts turned out to be dead-ends, but it didn’t matter.
He went that extra step to learn what the community and district were seeking, even though he was a product of both. His old sales career, even if only four months long, had helped. He knew how to pick up the phone and start building relationships.
Meanwhile, at North Park Continuation High School he also made himself extra visible and available, volunteering for extra hours and assignments wherever and whenever he could.
He finally got an interview at Ramona and then another and then another, first with Ramona’s principal Anne Neal and her assistant principal, then with a full panel of teachers, then with the principal, two assistant principals, and the school’s other counselor, Dena Hoover. It was as if Hanson was back at Bonita High School, getting grilled by interviewers for his senior project. Pass the interview or don’t graduate!
About six weeks ago, Hanson learned he landed the job.
“I was so pumped,” he said. “I was so thankful, I’m still so thankful. I know it’s so hard to get a job right now.”
He’s not sure how it all went down. Indeed he had all the requisites, the college and post-college degrees, the experience of working with at-risk children, his intimate knowledge of both the school district and community. Whatever it was, he was the last man standing.
“To be honest,” Hanson said, “what I tried to focus on were the contacts and making solid relationships and putting in the extra hours, so if a position did come up, someone would wholeheartedly recommend me versus someone just saying, ‘He’d probably do a good job.’”
“You need people who are going to make that phone call and put their name on the line for you.”
Now the counselor, Hanson’s name and reputation are definitely on the line with some 700 students he’s responsible for. Although he’s on familiar turf because he is a graduate of the school, he still finds himself in a strange place. There are about a dozen teachers at the school who were teachers when he attended Ramona. He’s not quite sure how to address them. A decade ago, he said “Mr. Riggs” and “Mrs. Frick,” now he calls them Mike and Debbie.
“Every situation is different,” said Hanson, adding that the Mr., Ms. and Mrs. monikers he uses are a force of habit that will take a while to break.
Another question he had to find the answer to was how he would handle calls to parents about their children.
Surprisingly, that’s something that hasn’t been a big issue,” Hanson said. “I was actually concerned a little bit about that myself. I think the best thing to do in almost every situation is to let them get out what they want to say rather than questioning or challenging every word. Just listen, and say, ‘Look, these are the standards we have for our students.’”
The teachers, of course, have their own standards, and it’s a lot more dicey and prickly for Hanson to approach them about a complaining student or parent, regardless of the issue.
“If I were that teacher, especially if I had been at the school, 10, 20 or 30 years, how would I feel if some punk kid came in and said, ‘This is how you do it or don’t do it.’?”
That’s why Hanson simply prefers relaying facts, acting as a go-between or mediator. “It’s not what I think,” said Hanson, “I’m just giving information. ‘This is what the parent or student feels about this or that.’ There’s no disrespect.”
Hanson said he already knows the names of close to 200 kids, but thinks most of the kids now know who he is, by virtue of his being out and about on campus all the time. He looks for loners and kids out of the mainstream to tap on the shoulder to make sure they’re doing okay.”
“Everybody needs a pick-me-up,” Hanson said, “even teachers and counselors.”
Only on the job six weeks, Hanson has already dealt with about 100 kids, usually referrals from teachers sensing their students need a little extra help and direction. Hanson’s not necessarily trying to get kids into Harvard. That’s more the job of a high school counselor. He just wants them to succeed to the next level.
“If you see a student’s grades drop from a 3.7 GPA. to a 2.7 GPA, something is probably going on,” Hanson explained. “That usually doesn’t happen.”
He understands there’s probably a lot going on in the student’s life.
“At Baldwin Park, the issues were different, more gang-related problems,” Hanson said. “Here, they may be affected by divorce, a family member passing away, a parent losing a job, an illness in the family. Kids are kids, and frankly they’re affected by a lot of issues that parents might overlook.”
It’s because of all of these issues and situations that Hanson takes his job so seriously.
In sales, if you don’t make the sale, it mostly affects just you, but here if I fail to connect with one kid who needs help, that failure could be a real life-changer. “If you don’t give your all to these kids, if you fail to ask them if they’re all right when you feel something’s up, you feel like you’re letting them down.
“It could be one little thing that could make that big difference,” Hanson added. “It might not be anything, it probably isn’t anything, but you never know. It’s not like working with adults, who are old enough to be responsible for their own decisions.”
If Hanson finds something wrong, he’ll put together an intervention or action plan, working with the students, parents and other professionals, as needed. He arrives early, stays late and loves his job. He has embraced his school, and it has embraced him.
Added Hanson, “I’m happy to be home.”

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