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Finding their own answers: Counselor Joe Galagan, Valley's high School educator of 2013, ponders final year
Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation’s High School Educator of the Year is a man with a 25-year history at Mount Si High School. Counselor Joe Galagan has been helping about 400 Mount Si High School students each year to find their own answers, and plans to look for some of his own at the end of the school year, when he will retire.
Here, in his own words, is Galagan’s story:
“I walked into Mount Si High school for the first time on a bright, sunny day in August 1987. The mountain was scenic, looming and massive, symbolically perched ever so close to the school (or so it seemed at first glance).
It was my first day on the job, a recently hired counselor, just a few weeks before the 1987-88 school year was to begin and I remember feeling more than a bit anxious. This was going to be a new experience, different from my previous positions as a vocational rehabilitation counselor handling adult clientele and as an academic advisor at the University of Washington. This was a high school setting; teenagers, variant forms of behavior and possible moments of chaos (as I recalled from my own high school days in Tacoma).
Yet, upon walking into the school’s front entrance, I found open office doors, students chatting and comparing class schedules, excited voices, friendly faces and a staff welcoming that has lasted for well over 25 years. Who could have asked for anything more?
I came to the counseling profession via the study of literature, first as an undergraduate student in English (American literature) and then as a graduate student at University College, Dublin (Irish literature). During that six-year learning experience, I was immersed in comprehensive reading, writing and, most importantly, character studies. This led to a self-directed review of psychology and an ever-developing interest in personality studies.
I have occupied a counseling office here in the school for 26 years. In and out of my door have passed a remarkable array of people, young and old, all aspiring for understanding, growth and full lives.
I have always believed in the goodness of others. This force remains strong within me and has guided my counseling practices. No matter the obstacles, hardships, or challenges, there remains within us a resiliency to persevere and move forward with confidence and distinction. I have attempted to provide students (and parents) a place to realize this, to find within themselves innate talents, gifts and personal resources.
A school counselor opens the door and asks students to walk through into a process of self-discovery. It might be a conversation about academics, family, college aspirations, relationships, personal issues, successes, or disappointments. The key has been to sit with the student, to be present and engaged, to listen and to allow for clarity and comprehension.
The school and community have allowed for other ventures tied to my counseling work. For years, I participated in the Natural Helpers program providing over 300 Mount Si High School students the opportunity to attend weekend training retreats at various outdoor camps. Here, alongside other MSHS staff members, we taught helping skills and encouraged empathy and trust-building peer connections. These were special student-centered weekends of learning, sharing, group dynamics and awareness. And each retreat was sponsored and funded by community grants.
I am now in my waning days at Mount Si High School. This will be my last school year, number 26, and then a true retirement. What awaits is somewhat unknown but I anticipate days of traveling, writing, walking, and family time.
I hope to write a book or two, something about schools and educators and lessons on learning. I have encountered so many talented and dedicated teachers and counselors along the way. I would like to give them their due, to cut through the politics and negativity sometimes surrounding schools and get down to the heartfelt matters of school stewardship.
Mount Si High School has a been a worthy place of learning, ripe with notable students and staff. I can say with all honesty that it has been an honor and a privilege working here each and every day since the very beginning.”