As a school counselor at Arizona’s Flagstaff High School, Katherine Pastor works with a group of 500 students from their freshman year to senior year. She sees first-hand the struggles they face.
A quarter of Flagstaff’s 1,600 students are Native American, and 160 move from reservations to live in an on-campus dorm while in high school. Over the past decade, the school has seen its college acceptance rates jump by 15 percent, and a 50 percent increase in the number of university recruiters that visit the campus.
“The challenge of the job is that nothing is scripted about school counseling. Nothing is scripted about your day,” she says. “The reward is when you see your students meet their unrealized potential.”
Pastor’s students have seen her face hard times as well. In 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, post-surgery, had to learn how to walk and talk again. Within two years after returning to work, she was named National School Counselor of the Year and honored at the White House.
“If there’s anything that I learned during my recovery, it is the value of perseverance,” she says. “Our students and our staff have seen me at my weakest and my worst. When you live through struggles and then you see your students go through them, it gives you a different perspective.”
Pastor and the Flagstaff staff have doubled down on giving all youth a chance. She created a college application day that includes helping families fill out financial aid forms, and led the development of a new career and counseling center.
“The other day, one of my students signed to play football at the college level, and he got a full ride both for his academics and athletics,” she says. “It was a dream come true, because we knew he desperately wanted to go to college, and this was the way for him to get there. Being in that moment, I felt like I had a little part in shaping his future.”