A personal experience with a counselor while she was in high school helped Janae Zechman learn what she wanted to do in life. It has since granted her 18 years of dedication to a job she loves and recognition from her coworkers.
Day in and day out, the Shawnee High School guidance counselor sees students with last names Hill through MacD and in each session, she does her best to learn about them to offer them the highest quality of assistance.
“It’s great to see them come in as freshmen, and they then mature and they start making decisions on what they’re doing after high school,” Zechman said happily. “You see them grow and make those decisions that they weren’t able to make when they were freshmen.”
Zechman’s job entails her seeing students for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, academics, social life, mental health and career planning. The variety allows for her to keep her days interesting and help the next student who walks through her doors.
Her willingness to want to learn more about the students she sees has earned her recognition from her peers as the Educational Services Provider of the Year at Shawnee.
Zechman’s desk is filled with items for students to fidget with and candy to enjoy as she dives deeper into their lives, much like for others in the profession.
“I ask them about how their holiday break was, if they did anything cool and I try to get to know them on a different level to establish a rapport with them,” she explained.
Many future educators seeking a high school counseling career can do so by getting the proper educational degrees and certificates. However, when Zechman was in pursuit of her career, she said she became a teacher first, then completed requirements for her master’s degree. The former degree was conferred at The College of New Jersey.
Her start as a Renegade was as a health and physical education teacher for 10 years before receiving her master’s degree at Wilmington University, and then taking a chance by applying for an open counseling job after a former employee retired.
Throughout her 18 years (eight as a counselor), Zechman has become accustomed to Shawnee and picked up a few additional responsibilities to better reach students, such as advising the Living Influence Free Everyday club and chairing the scholarship committee.
“There’s so much money people donate to offer to our students specifically, and just having them apply, finding the right match and knowing that there’s so many students that do really need financial assistance, and their excitement when they’re awarded the scholarship to see how thankful they are is really nice,” Zechman stated.
According to the high school’s press release, Zechman has been chair for students of the month, 504 (a committee offering assistance and support to students with a disability), VOICES and strategic planning. Zechman has also been a Class Council advisor and coached girls soccer and lacrosse, which won a state title during her tenure.
With her deep involvement in the school, Zechman has been given opportunities to help students outside of her office and learn more about the kids who roam the hallways.
As high schoolers figure out what they’re doing after graduation, Zechman said she doesn’t explicitly push them to go into counseling, and supports them unconditionally in whichever career path they choose following graduation.
Through her meetings with students, she helped them through various points in their lives and help them come to solutions that would best benefit their futures.
“There’s always going to be students you’ll see multiple times throughout the year,” Zechman concluded. “While there are a lot of students we work with, we all try and do a good job of seeing them a few times a year so we can get to know them.”