• ‘College geek’ is SEMO Counselor of the Year


    Chat Leonard is director of college counseling at Metro Academic & Classical High School. Photo by Wiley Price

    Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013 12:05 am

    By Bridjes O’Neil | 0 comments

    Chat Leonard, director of college counseling at Metro Academic & Classical High School in the St. Louis Public Schools, is a self-professed “college geek.”

    On her office walls, she pays homage to some of the most renowned colleges and universities in the country. She has plastered her walls with pennants of schools she has visited, like Princeton, Harvard and New York universities. Her bookcase is lined with a collection of college mascots. On her desk sits a large Saint Louis University coffee mug.

    “I have an obsession with visiting schools and bringing that information back to my students,” she said.

    This self-professed “geek” and her “obsession” with universities, which she has put to work on behalf of students for more than 30 years of college counseling, has earned Leonard recognition as the St. Louis American Foundation’s 2013 SEMO Counselor of the Year.

    On Friday, September 13, she will be honored at the Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala, held at the America’s Center Ballroom, along with 2013 Lifetime Achiever Lynn Beckwith Jr., 2013 Stellar Performer Art McCoy and others.

    This year marks Leonard’s fourth year as a college counselor at Metro. Metro is a magnet school in the St. Louis Public School District, which is under the leadership of Head Principal Wilfred D. Moore and Assistant Principal Wade Mayham. The school’s small size – last year’s total enrollment was 320 students – fosters intimacy between students, faculty and staff.

    Metro cultivates a diverse learning environment, with African Americans comprising 50 percent of the student population; Caucasians, Asians and Hispanics make up the other half.

    Metro suits her, she said, because the students are serious about their education and embrace academic rigor.

    “It’s cool to be smart at Metro,” she said.

    Metro’s graduation rate has been nearly impeccable over the past three years. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, Metro had a graduation rate of 100 percent in 2012 and 100 percent in 2011. The school's graduation rate in 2010 was 97.3 percent.

    Since 2002, the school has been classified by the International Baccalaureate Organization as an International Baccalaureate Affiliate School that incorporates a pre-university curriculum. In 2012, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report both ranked Metro among the country’s best high schools.

    Leonard strives to introduce these diverse, talented students to an array of schools. She estimates that nearly 50 percent of Metro students attend schools out of state, such as Yale, Columbia and Emory universities and the New Mexico Institute of Technology. She also has helped students matriculate at in-state colleges and universities, such as Washington University, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Southeast Missouri State, which she said is one of her favorite schools.

    She has been on her present career track since she was the age of the youth she advises. In high school, Leonard thought it would be “pretty neat to be a counselor.” She volunteered in the counseling department at Richwoods High School in her hometown of Peoria, Ill.

    She was finishing up her bachelor’s degree in speech and theater, with a minor in education, at Fontbonne University when she decided to pursue a counseling career. She taught for a year at Kirkwood High School while she pursued a master’s degree in counseling education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She also pursued doctoral studies at Saint Louis University.

    Her first stint as a college counselor was at Parkway South High School. She then moved on to Clayton High School, where she was a college counselor for 13 years.

    Leonard was recently selected as one of eight educators nationally to serve on the advisory board for Questbridge. Questbridge is an outreach organization that connects talented, low-income students with educational opportunities at some of the nation’s top colleges and universities. She is also affiliated with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, Missouri Association for College Admission Counseling and the College Board.

    Her greatest accomplishments aren’t rooted in academia, she said, but in her faith and family. She adores her husband, Jesse. Their son Jarod attends college in Florida. She is a member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Creve Coeur, where she served as vice president of the school board and secretary of the parish council.

    That said, her profession is also a passion.

    “I'm very passionate about what I do,” she said. “I’m really very humbled and honored that the St. Louis American Foundation and Southeast Missouri State University decided to bestow this honor on me. It’s really cool.”

    The 2013 Salute to Excellence in Education will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, September 13 at the America’s Center Ballroom, following a reception at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $85 each/$850 table, and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1,500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.stlamerican.com and click on Salute to Excellence, or call 314-533-8000.