MAHOPAC, N.Y. - After Dr. Deborah Hardy left her position as a high school counselor more than three years ago, she started her own counseling service—GuidED Consulting. Since that time, the business has grown from seven student clients to more than 100.
“GuidEd began as a venture for what parents and students were looking for in terms of college support,” Hardy said. “I expanded it to be more than about just the college process—it’s about the academics; it’s about the career, and the post-secondary in that it’s not always a four-year school—some kids will go to two-year schools, some will go to a trade school.”
When Hardy began GuidED, she worked primarily out of her car, paying visits to the students’ homes.
“I was the mobile counselor,” she said with a laugh.
Now, she has a brick-and-mortar office in the heart of Mahopac, and a staff that includes Sandra Cefaloni-Henderson, who has a Master’s in Literacy Education and a nine-year career in the higher education setting.
“It evolved into the school-counseling program that you’d find in the school system, but without the actual school,” Hardy explained. “We get to spend on average one to two hours per month with each student, which is nice. The amount of time I can spend with a student has increased because I’m not traveling anymore.”
The reason behind GuidED’s remarkable growth, Hardy says, is the way her approach to counseling has evolved organically.
“Our slogan is ‘counseling with a heart,’ and I was trying to figure out what that really means,” she said. “Students were saying to me, I want the ‘experience.’ But what did that mean?”
The “experience,” Hardy learned, was not just helping students write college essays, prepare for tests and fill out applications. It involved starting from the beginning—helping the student discover who he/she was, including their aptitudes and values and how it would all lead to college and a career.
Hardy starts by understanding who the student is by discovering their aptitudes and values.
“We have new tools we purchased this year. I have an aptitude test that is researched-based that I give to all the students; it looks at their interests,” she said. “Are they more visual? Are they more sequential learners? From there, it goes on to how they work with others. Are they collaborators; are they more introverted, extroverted? Then it goes into the careers. We look at the skills for each of those careers that match the results [of the test]. It’s then that they start understanding the ideas behind knowing themselves.”
That leads to a discussion about values.
“What’s important for them? Are they someone who loves community service? Are they the kind of person who enjoys hands-on learning and projects?” Hardy said. “I have a laundry list of values that they check off and talk to me about.”
And that leads to a discussion of potential college majors and careers.
“We are trying to get them to say to [college interviewers], this is who I am and what I like.”
“So, from the person, we go to the purpose,” she said. “Now that they know who they are, what is their purpose? We look at their activities, and what they’re involved in—their volunteer work, their course work. We talk about internships. I had students this year who said he wanted to go into television broadcasting. I know someone at the Carmel cable station, and they interned for them and got to see what that was about. I had another student interested in investments and trade and I connected him with someone who does that, and they were able to talk to that person.”
GuidED also has webinars in which professionals talk about their jobs and the paths they led them there and offer tips to the students. GuidED can also set students up in summer programs to give them a taste of a potential vocation.
“It’s really to explore how we look at your four years (of school) and matching up to your interests and what you think you want to do.
That leads to the pathway.”
Here is where GuidED helps the student choose the path that will lead them to their ultimate goal.
“Are they interested in trade, or a two-year college or a four-year college, and let’s look at all those pathways,” Hardy explained. “Let’s see how it fits your person and your purpose.
“We do a lot of research,” she continued. “I have a new program, which is a card game that I play with the students about their pathway. They have this little deck of cards for when they are visiting a college, and they can pull it up on their phone and it can guide them through the conversation. And not just on college visits, but at college fairs as well.
Once we have that all figured out, we start the process.”
Here’s where GuidED starts with college applications, building a resume, preparing for the essays, the supplements, the testing and the interviews as Hardy and her staff coach them through what can often be an intimidating process. But when one of their students get accepted, the milestone is celebrated.
“We have this board with a listing of who go into what college,” she said. “It is a celebration of the outcome. I had the colleges from 2019 up there and when I had to wipe it down (to clear space for 2020) I got a little emotional because I realized how important it was for my clients.”
The board doesn’t list the names of the students, just the schools.
“What the families saw was such a diversity of institutions,” Hardy said. “It wasn’t just East Coast, there was a variety—everything from trade schools to two-year schools to Ivy League. It was powerful.”
Now, Hardy looks back at the humble roots of GuidED and marvels at what it’s become.
“When I first began, working out of my car, I was just the ‘process.’ That’s where I was,” she recalled. “But I always felt like something was missing. I felt like I was stuck, and it wasn’t fair to the students. It all happened organically. We had to help students on a bigger level, and that’s when I thought, OK, let’s talk about who they are because that will feed into the essay. It’s all cyclical.”
Hardy now has a computer program that helps students discover their “purpose.” It creates a visual portfolio they can send to colleges.
“The kids can put their resume and pictures and videos of what they’ve done. By having that digital portfolio where they can showcase these things, it gives them a sense of purpose.”
And having a sense of purpose it really what it’s all about.
To learn more about GuidED and what they can do for the student in your life, call 845-628-0726.