Steffan's Full Circle: From CIS NOVA Student to Site Coordinator
Steffan Barahona's senior year of college was quiet. The pandemic emptied out Washington College campus and classes were virtual, leaving him a lot of time to think about how he could most meaningfully apply his psychology degree after graduation. He kept coming back to a big reason he was graduating from college to begin with, his CIS NOVA site coordinator from high school, Amanda Gallardo.
Steffan met Amanda at a FAFSA assistance night at Wakefield High School, where she was guiding families through the federal aid application process. "And after that I was in her office like, twenty times a week. For the first time in my life I felt like someone was listening to me," he says.
Amanda's open door policy is something Steffan is replicating as a site coordinator specializing in re-engagement at Wakefield. “The number one thing I tell my students when I first meet them is that I am an alum of CIS," Steffan says. "I still live in the community, too, so I can really relate to what my students are experiencing."
Steffan currently spends most of his week at Wakefield and one day at Arlington Community High School. He case manages 25 students who are most at risk for dropping out after the extended period of virtual learning. If CIS NOVA is a safety net for at-risk students, Steffan is the safety net beneath the safety net; an extra layer of protection made necessary by the pandemic, which has caused some kids to fall behind.
Steffan describes his work as a site coordinator with two interesting verbs: Unraveling and reaffirming. "I'm unraveling years of students' negative self and academic perception. Then I'm reaffirming their abilities." The school environment, he notes, can be focused on what students can't do. But Steffan focuses on what students can do, "That’s what drives me in my job, I tell my kids all the time that I’m proud of them, that they’re capable, that just because things are hard now doesn’t mean they’ll be hard forever."