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BACK TO HER BEGINNINGS

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In Memoriam

Counseling student still learning at her high school alma mater

by Matthew Piechalak

Jessica Garcia felt a deep sense of nostalgia as she walked back into her high school for the first time in years — a fullcircle moment that she continues to relive each school day as she reports to her practicum site.

“I can’t believe where I am now,” says Garcia, a 2016 San Marcos High School graduate, currently earning a Master of Arts degree in school counseling at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. She’s also completing a yearlong internship under the tutelage of her former high school counselor, Ruben Escobar. Now, he’s teaching Garcia what it takes to be a successful, caring and empathetic school counselor.

“It was an honor that one of my own students felt we had a connection that was above and beyond — that it left a positive impact on her to where she felt that she wanted to pursue the profession,” says Escobar, a counselor at San Marcos High for eight years.

School counselors deal with every situation that comes through their doors. “The ultimate goal is to help students navigate the educational system and to have better opportunities upon graduation,” he says.

The two have a lot in common. Both identify as first-generation

Mexican-Americans who understand the difficulties that English learners face in school. Escobar came to San Marcos High while Garcia was a junior, and guided her through the college application process.

“He was there to support me and help me seek out different leadership opportunities,” Garcia says.

Garcia attended school in the San Marcos Unified School District from kindergarten through high school. Both her parents emigrated to Southern California from Oaxaca, Mexico. Agricultural farm workers, they only had education through middle school.

“Education is something they really instilled in me,” Garcia says.

Garcia considers herself a quiet student, which made navigating high school a challenge. San Marcos High is the biggest high school in the county, with an average graduating class of more than 800 students. She says the school had a reputation of providing leadership opportunities for students with diverse backgrounds. But it was meeting Escobar that put her on a course for postsecondary success.

“Jessica was one of the first students I met when I came to San Marcos,” Escobar says. “She stood out to me as a motivated leader who wanted to go places.”

Escobar recognized Garcia as an ideal candidate to apply for the Reality Changers College Apps Academy, a City of San Diego program intended to help firstgeneration students get into twoand four-year institutions, through college life preparation and maximizing financial aid options. The academy was founded by Chris Yanov ’03 (MA), a USD Alumni Honors recipient in 2010.

“It meant the world to me that someone was willing to get to know me and advocate for why I would be able to succeed in a college system,” Garcia says.

Following graduation, Garcia and Escobar remained in contact. As her educational track moved toward a focus in school counseling, Escobar brought up the opportunity for her to return to her alma mater. Garcia met with all eight counselors at San Marcos High.

“Everybody loved that she was our student and now an alumna,” Escobar says. “Right off the bat, she had a certain poise and charisma. Everyone wanted to have her back.”

For Garcia, it was a special feeling to return home.

“I have always wanted to give back here in North County in the same way that support was given to me.”