Advocating for assistance

Huntley High School welcomes three new counselors to the school.


K. Perkowski

A picture of the North Pod where juniors and seniors, I-Z, can meet their counselors and request for help.

By Chase Keller

Bright and early, Jim Messina walks into his West Pod office, mentally prepared for the school day ahead. Dozens of college-themed items surround his room, from pennant form to sticker form to poster form, referring to his favorite section of counseling. 

As he sits down beside his wife’s Pet Parade drawing with his two cups of ice water, he takes a few minutes to decompress, waking up for the day he planned the night before. Going into his planning, he is unsure about what the day holds. But, regardless of his day being busy or free, he always looks forward to a great and unpredictable one.

“One of the things I like most about the job [is that] no two days are ever the same,” Messina said. “It makes it exciting and unpredictable, for better or worse.”

Across the country, schools are failing to act on a counselor crisis. According to the American School Counselor Association, the ratio of high school students to available counselors is 415 to 1, much higher than the recommended ratio of 250-to-1. While the current ratio is an all-time low since ASCA started tracking statistics in 1986, the number is still unacceptably high.

Huntley High School implemented new changes to the student pods and the counseling department to combat the country-wide counselor shortage and a massive freshman class. Among these changes is hiring three new full-time counselors: Messina, Danielle Rewiako, and Noelle Greene, who is currently out of her office on maternity leave.

The changes to the school’s pods may confuse returning students, mainly due to students’ counselors and deans switched around. But these additions should not only veer students into visiting their counselors but also relieves stress on a formerly 376.5-to-1 student-counselor ratio.

“We say [to the superintendent] ‘look, we need some support, we’ve advocated for it,’” principal Marcus Belin said. “[Scott Rowe] said ‘okay, cool,’ so now we get two new counselors.”

After the district’s move, they explored other solutions to help decrease the workload on the counselors, but ultimately, the new counselors joined the mainstream counseling job.

By the time the new school year kicked off, the three new counselors had settled into their offices, preparing for the coming year.

“I’m the type of person where I don’t get super emotional about anything, but [when I got hired], on the inside I was ecstatic,” Messina said. 

Messina had a long journey before he arrived at Huntley High School. Before he joined the counseling industry, he was a business and sport management major at the University of Illinois. After despising his post-college business job, he looked to make a career change.

“My best friend’s aunt was a high school counselor, and she loved her job,” Messina said. “She told me, ‘this is what my job is like, and I think you’d be really good,’ so I looked into it.”

Despite the motivation coming from his best friend’s aunt, Messina hesitated to study counseling. His desire to start a new chapter grew after hearing that DePaul University, which was close to his residence, was one of the best counseling schools in the Chicagoland area.

Yet, hesitance was still present throughout his decision process. Finally, after many contradictory thoughts, Messina finally decided to try out the class.

The rest was history for Messina. After taking classes at DePaul, he started his counseling career at Warren High School before moving on to Waukegan High School. Looking for something closer to home, he found Huntley.

Surprisingly enough, Huntley High School is the smallest high school Messina has worked at, with Warren’s enrollment being 4,000+ during Messina’s years and Waukegan’s being just under 4,500 in 2021. These schools are ranked 34th and 21st, respectively, in nationwide enrollment, and Huntley’s ranks are outside the Top 300. 

“I’m used to huge schools,” Messina said. “I like to think I’m pretty outgoing and getting involved and active, so [Huntley’s size] didn’t faze me.”

While Messina’s path to Huntley is fascinating, the same can be said about Danielle Rewiako, the other new counselor currently working, despite her different journey. The 2022-23 academic year is Rewiako’s third year and third position at Huntley, but before arriving, she had worked on a horse farm for the previous 20 years.

“I had graduated with my counseling degree in 2015, but I never really found a job near me,” Rewiako said. “I finally decided that I need to be full time in the school system to try to get my foot in the door.”

Before becoming one of Huntley’s new counselors, Rewiako worked as a 1:1 aide during her first year and a substitute counselor during her second. After superintendent Scott Rowe approved the addition of two new counseling positions, Rewiako was asked if she would put in an application for the new position.

Her motivation to step into the counseling industry was directly related to her work on the horse farm. Even though stepping away from her long-tenured job was difficult, she knew counseling would be excellent. In addition, she loves to work with other people, especially high school students.

Rewiako did her internship at McHenry High School-East Campus, which was sometimes confusing due to the split campus. Contradicting Messina’s journey, McHenry East held around 1,000 students, much smaller than Huntley. Despite that, the size never overwhelms her.

“[The school] is big, but I don’t notice it much anymore,” Rewiako said. 

Both Messina and Rewiako bring admirable personalities to Huntley High School. Not only are they great people, but they are also very helpful to students and could provide life-changing advice and information.

“Knowing that, hopefully, I’m somebody that they can trust,” Messina said. “Whether it’s the social-emotional piece, academics, or post-secondary.”