Updated: Jun 9
School counselors are an integral part of our community, shaping the lives of students as they provide guidance and support throughout one’s high school experience. Ms. Cannata and Mr. Fukuchi are no exception to this; their warm and welcoming presence in students’ lives make them memorable for the years of those they’ve worked with. Those stepping into their offices are always met with smiles and enlightening conversations, and as they retire this year, students and staff alike will miss them greatly. With Ms. Cannata having worked in this position for close to 30 years (40 total with LAUSD) and Mr. Fukuchi for 13 (with 26 across different careers), it is clear that their years of experience have created a lasting impact on the countless lives they’ve touched. As their final year comes to a close, we take a moment to honor the hard work and dedication they’ve put into their careers.
Knowing that she wanted to work as a teacher since she was in the 3rd grade, Ms. Cannata taught at the elementary and middle school levels before becoming a counselor. “Being a classroom teacher is one of the most difficult and amazing tasks any human being can undertake,” she says, reflecting on her time in the classroom. “I loved having that rapport with students, but I wanted it on a different level.” Seeking this new level of connection with students introduced her to a new career field in counseling. Both nervous and excited about the change from classroom to counseling office, she was confident this was the career path for her. “And I’m still here!” she laughs, showing how her love for her work has truly shown to be the place for her. Similarly, Mr. Fukuchi began his journey teaching at John Marshall High School. He realized that he was often the go-to for students when they were in need of advice beyond academic matters. “I started noticing that I had this connection with students where they had this trust in me, and I think that’s an important aspect of being a counselor,” he tells me. “This motivated me to switch professions from teaching to counseling.” Looking to build these connections with students guided him into this role as a counselor, and he was determined to help students on their paths to success and motivate them every step of the way. Their journeys have been a learning experience, and each day on the job has helped them grow not only in the position but as people too.
Ms. Cannata describes how working as a counselor has changed throughout the years for both her and Mr. Fukuchi. “It has come from a more person-to-person type of work environment with students, and now the accountability is so much different—it’s a lot of paperwork to ensure that you’re being held accountable for doing what you’ve always done,” she says. “Before, you were allowed to be the counselor you wanted to be and needed to be for your students, but now you’re almost controlled during certain times of the year, and you’re not as accessible as you used to be.” “It almost feels like I spend more time documenting how I help students than helping students, and that doesn’t feel right to me,” Fukuchi adds. The role has shifted a lot since they started, and it can be difficult to keep going as things change. “Something that keeps me passionate, and has always kept me passionate, is the students. Establishing these relationships and being able to help has always kept me motivated,” says Mr. Fukuchi. Like any meaningful endeavor, Mr. Fukuchi and Ms. Cannata faced challenges throughout their career, from increasing expectations to shifting student needs to the frustration of not being able to go that extra mile for a student. It’s no surprise that working as a counselor can be an emotionally taxing job, and as the pandemic hit in 2019, new difficulties arose through it. Working virtually with students came with its own set of challenges for counselors all over the world as they struggled to connect with and support them fully. Ms. Cannata and Mr. Fukuchi comment on how COVID-19 completely changed their work environments and “stretched [them] more than any other time,” Fukuchi says. It was difficult for them to figure out ways to support their students and continue to establish these strong bonds across a computer screen. Being open-minded and patient were key values held throughout their work, and employing creativity, determination, and resilience, they tackled the challenges head-on. Their unwavering commitment to the well-being of students allowed them to persist through the obstacles, coming out of the pandemic stronger than before.
The most important and remarkable part of being a school counselor is the impact that they have on students. Through their guidance and support, students overcome obstacles, discover their passions, and unlock their full potential. “The most exciting [moment] is when a student comes back, tells you ‘Gosh, thank you for all you did!’” Ms. Cannata smiles. To her, these moments solidify why she does this and why she continues to work hard as a counselor. “Because some days, you feel like you’re working and working and working hard and not you’re not getting anywhere, which is what you think, but when a student comes back and says ‘You made a difference in my life’... that's all I need to hear.” When students return to express their gratitude or seek advice, it serves as a testament to the impact the counselors have had on their students’ lives. Mr. Fukuchi recounts how memorable and special it was to be asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student’s graduate school application. “Those relationships that go beyond the end of high school and being able to be of assistance to their future endeavors is something that is really rewarding,” he says. The bonds formed with students extended beyond their time in school, creating lasting connections that further emphasizes the incredible influence of their work as a school counselor.
As they embark on a well-deserved retirement, they wish everyone well, hoping that their colleagues find continued happiness in their work. To students, Ms. Cannata wishes “good health and happiness to follow their passions.” She encourages them to “find someone,” she says. “Find a counselor, find a teacher, find a connection with an adult that will support them with what they’re doing because there is someone for every student and every school that they can count on. And hopefully, that will be their school counselor.”
In the spirit of passing the torch, Ms. Cannata and Mr. Fukuchi share words of wisdom for those aspiring for a position in this field. They encourage others to embrace the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and discuss how rewarding it can be. Being compassionate, respectful, and open-minded to change and learning are important skills that they agree that they’ve honed in on and found growth in during their time. “There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth,” Mr. Fukuchi comments, placing emphasis on how important it is to be a good listener for the students and how important it is to really and truly love working with adolescents. “Be patient with yourself before you’re patient with everyone else,” he continues. “If you’re not patient with yourself, then it's hard to be patient with everybody else. If you’re stuck in your own head, we’re not being accurate in how we assess things.”
These parting words of wisdom are important to keep in mind, for both students and incoming counselors. Ms. Cannata hopes that their legacy will inspire future generations of school counselors to leave a mark on the lives of students. “To make a difference, even if it’s just for one student, means everything.”