School district counselor takes helm with sense of purpose

HARLINGEN – They bring with them the emotional challenges of an 18-month pandemic, the academic challenges of virtual learning, the social challenges of isolation.

And Sylvia Gamboa is ready to address the needs of those students as the new director of guidance and counseling for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.

“Some of these kids, the last time they had a full school year was in sixth grade, so they missed those formative years in regards to social interactions,” said Gamboa, who brings seventeen years of experience to the district.

Gamboa, a 1990 graduate of Mercedes High School, is no stranger to the Harlingen school district. She served ten years as counselor for Harlingen High School South. She was away for seven years before returning to the Harlingen school district to take her current posting.

“I love the district,” she said. “I’ve always followed the district, my daughter graduated from South. It’s a great opportunity to serve in a different capacity in helping counselors throughout the district. I’m very passionate about the counseling role, so it’s really great to serve the counselors here and in turn serving all of the students.”

Those duties mean ensuring students receive the support and resources they need according to mandated guidelines. Support includes not only academic planning but also the social and emotional wellbeing of students.

“Whatever the counselors are needing, I’m there to support them and provide them with any kind of professional development opportunities,” she said. “They call if they have any questions.”

In addition, she’s there to support new counselors who are transitioning into the work environment, and that transition may be especially challenging with students suffering the aftermath of the 18-month lockdown.

The pandemic forced many children to stay home for months, some of them in abusive environments, some with little infrastructure to log in to virtual learning. Even for the best of home environments, the lack of social interaction was especially hard on the kids.

That’s what Gamboa and her counselors are working on this year. And it’s not easy. The isolation meant many kids who are in their formative years missed out on crucial life skills lessons usually learned through interaction with other kids as well as teachers.

And that’s just one of many issues, as each student is unique.

“We have students who in the past they were very well-adjusted students, they were involved with their extracurriculars, they did very well in their classes,” she said. “But they didn’t fare very well in the virtual learning environment.”

These, he explained, were not the kind of students educators and administrators would have expected to have academic delays, so it’s been difficult determining who needs help.

“There aren’t any specific indicators as there are typically when we are trying to determine who are the students who might be needing additional resources and support and follow-up,” she said. “It has affected all students in different ways.”

The kids are the highlight of each day, she said.

“I enjoy any opportunity that I can get to work with students to try to make a positive impact on the lives of students,” she said. “That’s my purpose.”

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