Mr. Sweet is the head counselor on campus, always busy with things to do. He runs the California Scholarship Federation for students among many other commitments! He got his degree in English and is a fantastic writer, to say the least. Today’s interview gives you a glimpse into his work routine and reflections on his years at Highland. Be sure to stick around the speed round to see some controversial opinions (like — does Mr. Sweet agree on pineapple on pizza??)
- Hi Mr. Sweet! Thank you for taking the time to interview today. Could you please start off by introducing yourself?
My name is Joe Sweet and I’m a counselor at HHS – this is my 17th year here! Prior to that, I was a teacher for 6 years. So I’ve been an educator for a total of 23 years!
- We know that you are a veteran counselor here. Could you tell me a bit about how things were when you first started versus now? Ie. any specific trends or changes over the years?
That’s a good question! Obviously, a lot has changed from Highland itself. When I first got here, we were much smaller! We are currently 2,600 students and I think we were 1600-1700 students when I first started so we have 1000 more students and that’s a significant, much larger population of students today. We’ve got a lot more programs available for students and a lot more opportunities for students – I feel like, from what we used to have. Our students themselves have changed: there are a lot of students who are busy with all kinds of things in the classroom and beyond. So I feel that a lot has changed but, in some ways, through the four years, you do see patterns. Seeing students starting off as freshmen and going through that four-year journey and leaving high school and being prepared for their lives is pretty consistent, and a great experience to be a part of and to watch them go through that. Definitely, Highland has grown in both the number of students and the number of things we can offer students!
- Many students have dubbed you a “workaholic” because of the sheer magnitude of stuff you do on campus! Do you think you hold true to this title?
I think that a workaholic is someone that does their work just because it is required of them – I associate the term with eventual burnout – so in some ways, I just cannot believe that is true because a lot of the things that students see me involved in is because I want to help so it doesn’t feel burdensome at all! I just feel like it is the nature of the job and part of the process of watching students do things for themselves. So it feels very rewarding and very engaging for me to be a part of that and I would hate to miss those things because they are so significant to students’ lives and their futures, like college applications or class selection or getting into the right program – even just talking to them about what is going on in their lives. It feels like it’s easier to be a part of that and not miss that than have a fear of a student needing you, not being there for that, and then them not getting what they need from their experiences. That would feel worse to just not help! And no, I never feel the burnout~
- Can you walk me through your typical daily routine?
So when I get here in the morning, just to get myself up and running I typically go and check-in with the other counselors to see what they’ve got going on and if they need anything. I check my email (we know he does) to see if any work has come up like a meeting or anything that needs to be taken care of that day. Typically we have stuff on our calendars and we’re all preparing for it that week. For example, next week we’re going to freshmen classes to present four-year plans, so we get all the materials ready, I get myself prepared and organized, and once all that’s up and running I try to get through the rest of the day as best I can!
- What is a responsibility of yours that may surprise students?
I don’t know if students really know, under the surface, how much we really check in on them. They know we call them in and talk to them about their grades sometimes. But even moments where we’re checking in on them with the computer or on phone calls – just how frequently we’re trying to see how they’re doing and just monitoring and checking in on where they’re at. I’m not trying to say this in a way that sounds intrusive — but it’s not really! I just think that things that go into four years of HS for students and there’s a lot of under-the-surface thing to make sure they’re not falling behind and that there is success for them – it might not be that surprising, but it’s something that I wouldn’t even want them to know, to tell you the truth! How much energy goes into how to help students is something that I don’t think they’re really aware of – what I mean is, we don’t get to see our students every day in the classroom. So the question is how do we get our information out, how do we keep them on track, how do we make sure that they know what’s coming their way to help them – these are things that we [counselors] worry about a lot!
- From a counselor’s perspective, what kind of courses or clubs make for a fulfilling high school experience? Is there any “must-take” or “must-do” class or activity?
Students should push themselves as hard as they can. They should not shy away from challenges, they should try to find things they feel passionate about or they want to get engaged in because those opportunities don’t stay with you after high school. Say you want to play a sport, it’s really hard to compete in athletics after HS is over, so if you don’t take these opportunities, you’re going to miss out on that. Go push yourself while you’re in HS, this is a time of great growth, so students who push themselves really hard get a lot out of that push. If they don’t, they’ll miss out on these opportunities. So students who really want to make the most of those four years should definitely take as much as they can handle to grow as much as possible. They should put their energy into what they feel most passionate about. If I say, “Oh, you need to do X program” and you end up hating that program, that is not a win for you whatsoever! It really has to be you searching for what it is you want to do and investing your time and energy into that. So I see some students who have great careers later in their life because they were part of a really competitive program like AG/FFA, but that’s not the case for everybody! Some students change that because they don’t like the projects outside of school or the hours they have to accumulate. So as far as “must-haves,” students first have to find themselves. But every student can benefit from pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.
- On the opposite side of the spectrum, is there any class students seem to avoid like the plague or notoriously drop out of?
(LAUGHS) Oh! I don’t think so! I think there are challenges at every grade level and there are courses that definitely push students – so I’m not going to lie and say every class is a piece of cake and nobody is dropping – but it does change from year to year. And as I’m reflecting on this year, I haven’t noticed any class where it’s like students are just dropping ship. As long as students feel like they can succeed, they usually try to stick with the class.
- If you could shout out another counselor you work with, who would it be and why?
I am not doing that – I love my team too much! They all bring their own strengths to us, every one of them has so much to offer. And I think our students are really fortunate to have a team that wants to help students and wants to commit to being here every day and make an impact on students. I think that they all deserve a shoutout!
- Can you recall a special memory during your time counseling that has stuck with you?
Absolutely! To me, it is always graduation night. It’s hard to not feel that it’s a special moment when you get to see students that you’ve known for four years grow, accomplish something, and be excited about their success – to just share that moment with them is really powerful, it’s just always such a great night. I remember my first graduating class standing out to me the most but every time I get to be a part of graduation is really, really special.
- What is one skill or realization you could not have come to if you never became a counselor?
Empathy! I think I’m a better parent, I think I have a better understanding of people altogether. Empathy is a big part of the job. Watching students through the course of my career and just understanding them is powerful, so empathy is definitely a skill and it’s still something I need to get better at but that’s definitely something that has been helpful
- We are about to jump into a speed round, but before that – our final question. What is Highland High School to you?
Community. Family. I’ve been here for so long – I live in the area, my kids go to school here. I’ve invested so much of what I’ve done in my life, professionally, to this school. It just feels like a community – teachers that are here, students that are here, I just feel so connected to so many of the past and current students and their stories and their lives! When I see them out doing things in their futures and how they’ve grown up to be, this has just been an incredible opportunity to see them become a part of something special for them.
SPEED ROUND – answer in 30 seconds or less!
- Cat or dog?
- Ivy League, liberal arts, or UC?
- Pineapple on pizza?
- Describe yourself in 3 words or less!
- Beach or forest?
- Savory or sweet?
- Best fast food joint?
In n Out
- Book everyone should read?
I wish I would’ve had this question earlier! I wish I could go through my catalog for this – for everyone, just one book?!
- Last photo on your phone?
My daughter won a Wii game last night and so I took a picture!
Thank you so much!
And there you have it — an interview with the beloved counselor on site: Mr. Sweet! Clearly, he contributes a ton to the school campus and continuously extends himself thin for students here. So next time you see Mr. Sweet out and about, be sure to thank him for all he does for us!