Mrs. Chen ‒ we all see her throughout the school day talking to students and teachers alike. She plays a vital role as guidance counselor to hundreds of students and advisor to peer tutoring. There is much more to her history than just the time in Waterford.
Long before her immigration to the U.S., Mrs. Chen lived in Taipei, Taiwan. For her undergraduate degree, she actually studied law. Although she wanted to be an attorney for juvenile offenders, the work was not fulfilling to her. She described how “in Taiwan, the kids would not get the second chance that they might get here.” She wanted to be able to help them before they made the choices that landed them in court.
Life slowed down her goals. She got married and had children, but she was in no way ready to settle down. In 1989, she and her family immigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. Not only did she believe that it would help her family, she looked forward to being able to work in this new country. She talked about how she had heard that people in the U.S. worked well together and always seemed to create an environment where you could be inspired. During this time, her husband was studying orthodontics at UCONN.
In 1992, Mrs. Chen received her school counseling degree from Central Connecticut State University. Soon after, she travelled back to Taiwan and worked as an elementary school counselor. She found this work much more fulfilling compared to her work as an attorney, and loved the energy that the kids brought to the table. The turn of the millenia hit, however, and she moved back to the U.S., this time settling in Connecticut for good.
When a job offer opened up here at Waterford High School, she talked about how Mr. Macrino, the predecessor to Mr. Hauser, was welcoming and seemed to care for the students in the school. This caring was a much more genuine feeling compared to the attitude in her home country. She felt with this job she would be able to fulfil her goal of helping children onto the right path. A big point she emphasized was that she enjoys helping “people make informed, educated decisions.” Her job was not about telling kids what to do, rather to help them be able to help themselves. She attributed this to her “rainy day character,” the attitude of being prepared for any problems that may arise.
For the majority of seniors, college application season is here. When asked if there was any pressure on her, seeing as applying to college is one of the biggest decisions in a student’s life, she scoffed at the question: “I think the pressure is on since you guys come to high school, I don’t think the pressure starts just when you become a senior.” She talked about how the copious notes she takes during her planning sessions with students is all done so that when senior year comes around, the process is easier. “It comes with the job,” she said.
When asked if she has any frustrations regarding students who may be unmotivated, or not living up to their potential, she emphasized this phrase “Walk faster, talk slower.” She explained that walking fast allows her to meet and talk with as many people as she possibly can. She talked about how talking slower allows people to understand patience, that you actually take the time to process what they are saying. Through this patience, she understands that people grow at different paces, and that she doesn’t feel any frustration with students who may be considered unmotivated.
“When students are willing to share with me their happiness, their struggles,” she says. That’s her favorite part of this job. She hopes that if her students can learn to trust her, they will be better prepared to trust others in their futures. Ryan Dombroski, senior at WHS and co-director of Peer Tutoring, works with Mrs. Chen after school to assist students who may be struggling academically. He says that “she loves her job” and that “she goes out of her way for all her students.” Somehow with her busy schedule, she’s able to help make this program function.
While she switched from law to school counseling, Mrs. Chen’s heart has always been with the students. Whether it be helping students on their post graduation path, with their current academics, and contributing to a positive school environment, Mrs. Chen is always ready to be there for others. This type of attitude has aided her in her time at WHS and continues to help the students under her charge as they make their way into adulthood and beyond.