Since it opened in the summer of 1999, Academy Hall has served as the front door to our campus. After 17 years of standing front-and-center on its own, the main administrative building (with architecture and pillars paying homage to the school’s original structure on Nelson Road) now has window-paneled wings on both sides: a new entrance to the Middle School on the left and a college counseling suite on the right.
The College Counseling Office, in particular, is situated on a front corner nearest Campus Drive that makes it one of the first interior locations that visitors can easily see. For its inhabitants – Director of College Counseling Darnell Heywood, Associate Director of College Counseling Jennifer FitzPatrick and their new office manager, Joan Young – being featured so prominently is a great challenge to have.
“Our office is a bridge between high school and the college world,” said Darnell, who is entering her ninth year at Academy and 20th in college admissions counseling. “For us to be front and center but also be in close proximity to the students is critical. We’re super excited about it!”
The new construction and renovations that will soon be unveiled feature more gathering and reflective spaces, which were badly needed. It’s no coincidence that the new junior lounge will be just outside the college counseling door.
“This may seem like a minor detail, but for us it’s major,” stated Jen, who joined our staff in 2012 after serving as Director of College Guidance at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh and Associate Director of Admissions at Allegheny College. “We do a ton of work with that particular class, so the ease of them being right there hanging around our space is huge.”
Once you step into the College Counseling Office, Joan will greet you from her desk just inside the door to the left. Beyond her in the entryway is a standing workstation where students can complete paperwork or go online as they wait for appointments. On the far left corner will be the individual offices for Jen and Darnell.
According to Darnell, they were able to have a strong say in the design of their new space.
“I feel like my favorite input on the whole project is the robin egg blue color of our offices,” she said. “That was something I stuck to my guns about because I really wanted that peaceful color.”
Across from their offices are a small supply room and a large conference room that can be converted into a classroom when needed. One of conference room’s main purposes will be to host meetings between Academy students and the representatives from over 100 colleges who visit each year. It can also be configured to handle smaller group meetings, such as advisory sessions and club activities, or multiple individual work areas.
Jen shared why they are excited about the possibilities: “Our conference room is really a show space as well. When college reps are in there this fall and all you can see out the windows are the trees changing colors, you won’t find a better view than that!”
While their giddiness over new workspace is understandable, it is the actual work that they do that is most impressive. Darnell and Jen are both nationally recognized for their expertise in helping students find the right fit for college. Their counseling is child-centered and focuses on meeting students where they are as they help them to see the many paths to the future before them. Their college counseling program emphasizes appropriate course selection, college planning, parent programming, and financial aid counseling for students and families.
Darnell, who began her career at Kenyon College – her alma mater – serving as an Assistant Director and then Associate Director of Admission, was elected last fall by the 6,000+ members of the College Board to serve as Chair-Elect of its Guidance and Admissions Council. During her six-year term, she will spearhead the leadership of the most recognized and powerful organization in the college admissions field.
For the past two decades, Darnell and Jen have visited hundreds of college campuses, attended and presented at numerous national conferences, and have been sought after for their advice, including a 2012 article (“November College Checklist for Seniors”) published in The New York Times.
In 2013, Jen was nominated for and selected by her peers as a “Counselor That Changes Lives,” a national award recognizing those whose dedication to the college counseling profession helps students frame their search beyond the ratings and rankings to find colleges that provide the foundation for successful and fulfilling lives.
Providing them with such a wonderful new space and location on our campus is intentional. The services they provide to our students, as well as the high level of abilities and experience they have amassed, deserve to be featured. No doubt, colleges will be impressed.