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Take a look at my “Statement of Purpose” for the University of San Francisco Masters in Counseling Psychology, concentration in School Counseling, program. This short essay outlines my reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology from USF along with my experience and skill set as it relates to the program. Although slightly intimidating to start this essay and admissions process as a whole, it wasn't difficult to speak on something that comes from my heart. So in saying that, staying true to myself made the admissions process that much easier.
“Living in a childhood without a sense of home, I found a place of sanctuary in ‘theorizing’, in making sense out of what was happening… I learned from this experience that theory could be a healing place.”
I truly believe that before we can even begin to work with youth, we need to take a look at our own starting point and where we are coming from. I am not referring to our background or our histories, although these are definitely key in our work with youth, however, I am suggesting that we take a deeper and honest look at the question, ‘Why do you work with youth?’ Asking ourselves this question before we begin to work with youth is essential because without reflecting on the “why”, how can we even begin to engage with youth in an honest regard? When I ask myself this question, I find my answer to be rooted in “love” and “compassion”. Without a doubt, I work with youth because I genuinely care about their overall well-being. Whether it is regarding self-awareness, self-development, identity safety, academic support, or meeting basic needs, my work with youth always has and always will come from a place of love. For me, love and compassion are two key values that guide my practice because in every moment, program, or situation that I engage in with youth, I always strive to come from a place of love in order to best support them. In the same respect, the University of San Francisco’s School Counseling Program also embodies these two values, which is one reason why I became so interested in the program and believe it to be a great fit for me. Through this program, I hope to learn the skills needed to build an overall school culture that starts with love and compassion. There are several schools that perpetuate systems of disempowerment and control that only enforce a power struggle between youth and adults as well as the idea that “youth need fixing”. If we can root our schools in love and compassion, then we can send youth a new and welcoming message where students are validated, empowered, loved, and connected.
In order to build an effective, positive school culture, which fully supports our youth, not only do we need to come from a place of love but we also need to build trusting relationships with our students and their communities. Through its focus on community empowerment and respect for diversity, the School Counseling Program demonstrates this approach, which I completely support as being a vital step in effective engagement with youth. As an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, my Community Studies field study took place with a multi-racial, youth led organization called Youth Together. Through this experience, I learned how to build trusting relationships with youth and their communities, who were different from my own social location and community. Although a difficult process to be considered an “outsider” and strive to work for justice within a community I was not initially welcomed in, I learned to become an ally and someone the organization could hold accountable. First, I had to meet the students, community, and organization where they were at before even beginning to join in on their struggle, which proved to be the most effective approach. In always staying true to my heart, learning when to step up and when to step back, proving I could be trusted through consistency and making myself available, I then was considered part of the organization and struggle. Not only did I conclude my field study as “part of” the organization but I also continue to communicate with several of the youth and adults I worked with, which I believe to be a true testament of my ability to build trusting relationships with others. Through the School Counseling program, I hope to learn tangible skills to work cross culturally with under-served youth and families, acting as a trusted bridge between the school and community by developing culturally centered, empowerment programs to make this a reality. In addition, I hope to further develop my skills as an ally, trusted adult, and advocate for youth so that I can provide the proper supports, referrals, and interventions according to their needs and reflective of their comfort with me.
Love, compassion, and trust are all values that are important to me when working with youth and are what guide my practice overall. However, I would not be truly invested in this work if I did not include equity and community as well. A historically disenfranchised community, youth are constantly facing systems that disempower them. To move even further from this, is the fact that our youth from underserved communities face additional barriers. My prior experience working with high school students involved coordinating multiple youth development programs to not only provide students with the space to voice their opinions regarding these school-community issues but to also build the skills necessary to overcome them. Through my programs, students developed a sense of self awareness, community with one another as well as their school-community, and knowledge regarding injustices, which empowered them to develop their vision, practice decision-making, exercise judgment and grow in leadership. In addition, I consistently connected my students to community programs, resources, and family events with the overarching idea of supporting our students in multiple ways. With the School Counseling Program focused on problem-solving and equity for all students, I strive to develop the skills and experience needed to become an effective, critical school counselor that uses a multi-faceted approach in working with students to receive the equity they, their families, and community deserves. By providing counseling, mentoring, social emotional support, referrals to community and school based programs or resources, and overall being an advocate for them in the various institutions that may disempower them, I hope to be an effective change agent at schools for our underserved youth. With the theoretical knowledge and experience I have gained thus far, coupled with my own unwavering drive to take my work with youth to the next level, I feel that I am a great candidate for the School Counseling Program. I would be honored to represent the University of San Francisco and continue the legacy of justice, respect for diversity, and community it embodies. Thank you for your consideration.
Shannon Smoot was recently admitted into the University of San Francisco Masters in Counseling Psychology Program with a concentration in School Counseling. She will begin her graduate studies and internship fieldwork Fall 2014.She holds a BA Degree in Community Studies with concentrations in Youth Development, Youth Empowerment, & Youth organizing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.While an undergrad, Shannon interned with the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall and conducted her field study with a multi-racial youth led organization in the East Bay called Youth Together. After her studies at UC Santa Cruz, Shannon landed a job as the Youth Development Coordinator for Menlo-Atherton High School and coordinated a Peer Education Team, Youth Advisory Board, Freshman Compass Leadership class, among others. When her work as the Youth Development Coordinator for M-A High School came to a halt due to a loss in state funding, she was thankfully able to find employment with Youth Community Service as a 180 Degree Life skills Communication Class Facilitator and Youth-Leaders About Change Director, both at M-A. Shannon is extremely passionate about youth voice, youth-adult partnerships, and justice issues as they relate to youth. She is also especially interested in identity safety work and working to create safe schools for the LGBTQ community.