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Overcoming challenges: a coach’s story

By first year coach Naomi Bunker

I never thought I would be working in education, let alone in the high school I’ve driven past my entire life. I imagined being neck-deep in medical school classwork in another state, working toward making a better future for people of color in medicine.

Originally, when I started serving as a coach with College Possible, it took me a while to come fully to terms with the course correction my life had taken, just five months after walking across the stage at graduation. While feeling both sadness and relief from my life’s plan not coming to fruition, I dove into the work of College Possible, giving it my best, just like I would have in medical school, always keeping my future patients in mind.

During my first semester working as a coach, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with some wonderful students. I’ve been reminded of the essential time high school is in the development of a person, not just in the classroom, but the discipline, hobbies, expression of dreams, and the development of character. There’s one student in particular that I’ve had meaningful and unique interactions with. Jamey, one of the senior cohort students I serve, has been engaged from the beginning. He answered my first call and was one of the first students I met in person. He has met with me to ask valuable questions about college, and also about life.

One day, Jamey came in for his scheduled meeting and I asked him what questions he had for me that day, noticing that his normal upbeat spirit seemed down. He said, “Can we just talk about life today?” I agreed and for the next 45 minutes, he told me about his concerns with going to college, the discouragement that he had received from his family, and that he wasn’t sure if he should go through with it. At home, Jamey is the youngest child and handles some of the household’s primary responsibilities. He drives family members around, purchases food at the grocery store, and sends money to family members back home. He accomplished all of this while upholding his 4.2 GPA, working both at a job and internship, and bearing the emotional toll of being a first-generation college student. The weight of life was getting to Jamey that day, and he just needed someone to listen, care, and try to understand.

Through our conversation, I was able to help him problem-solve. If there was a money concern, we could look for another scholarship or apply for Direct Student Aid. If there was a concern about distance from home, we could look for closer schools to apply to. If there was a concern about losing aspects of his culture, we could search for Hmong clubs for him to join on campus. Outside of the normal coaching responsibilities, I could be an encouragement to him and a place of support. Were the solutions to some of his practical questions about college helpful? He thought so, and I was glad about that. But more importantly, on his way out he said, “Thank you for listening to me. I know that you see me, not just as a student, but as a person.

As I’ve been able to sit and reflect on the past years, I’ve been able to see that the patients I wanted to make a better future for in medicine are the same types of people I can help at College Possible, like Jamey. I can help to make a better future for students, just like I wanted to in medicine. The injustices faced by people of color extend into all areas of life. My passion for making a difference hasn’t changed, I’ve realized it may just be in a setting other than a clinic.

I’m still discovering what I want to do with my career, but I know as I navigate that area, I can still affect people in the process in a way that brings fulfillment to my gifts and passions and allows others to reap the benefits of what I have to give. If it were up to me, I never would have chosen to work in a high school, but I’ve seen that my change of course (while exciting, and challenging), could meet someone else in their challenge too. I never thought that a senior in high school would be one of the best examples of helping me to see a the whole picture, recognizing that my life can bear beautiful fruit in the process of discovering what I’m growing toward in the future.

Are you inspired by Naomi’s story? Learn more about serving with College Possible. You could be a critical support system and coach to a student like Jamey throughout their college journey.

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