• National Association for College Admission Counseling Bulletin

    NOVEMBER 20, 2013

    Member Spotlightspotlight

    Chat Leonard

    Director of College Counseling

    Metro Academic and Classical High School (MO)

    Chat Leonard

    How long have you been working in college counseling? How has your career path led you to your current work as the director of college counseling at Metro Academic and Classical High School (MO)? 

    I have worked in college counseling for more than 30 years. I spent the previous 13 years at Clayton High School in suburban St. Louis before coming to Metro—where I am currently in my fourth year. When the opening at Metro Academic was available, I knew the position would be the perfect fit for me because of its diverse environment and the presence of a strong college going culture. Metro is considered one of the “gems” in the St. Louis Public Schools System and was named one of the top 100 public schools in America a few years ago by Newsweek and is considered one of the top public schools in the state of Missouri by U.S. News and World Report

    What opportunities and challenges do you face working at a magnet school?

    The opportunities and challenges are one in the same.

    I have the wonderful opportunity of working with such a diverse ethnic and socio-economic population here at Metro. Metro is multi-cultural with approximately 45 percent identified as African American, 40 percent Caucasian, 11 percent Asian, and 5 percent Hispanic. Within those ethnic groups we have a significant number of students who are Bosnian and Vietnamese, students who are first-generation college students and almost a third of our entire population who qualify for free/reduced lunch. The challenge is to make sure each of these students realizes his or her potential of not only going to college, but also the expectations of earning a degree in order to transform their dreams into reality. 

    You knew you wanted to become a counselor at an early age. What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a college counselor for high school students?

    I can’t say that I actually knew that I wanted to become a counselor when I was in high school. However I am now certain that those seeds were certainly planted back then.  I had always gravitated to the teaching genres when I had jobs before college. From camp counselor to lifeguard and swim instructor, I suppose I had those characteristics that lead one toward the field of education. I was usually considered responsible, talkative, curious, and a little opinionated. During my senior year, I volunteered in the counseling office at my high school in Peoria (IL). I was supposed to serve as the receptionist; making appointments and answering phone calls. Not only did I schedule student appointments with their counselor, I took it upon myself to find out what each student needed from the appointment and proceeded to brief each counselor in order for each to be best prepared for the appointment. Needless to say, I offered bits of my advice and opinion to both student and counselors along the way. Looking back, I am appalled how I was allowed to overstep my boundaries. Due to student confidentiality, this would never be allowed today. 

    If someone wanted to become a college counselor for high school students, I would tell them to immerse themselves in as much professional development as possible. Attend conferences on the local, state and national levels. Visit as many college campuses as possible and learn as much as you can about programs, majors and admission standards from different types of colleges and universities. If you are currently a high school counselor, attend as many programs, breakfasts and lunches that institutions host. Find a mentor who is currently in the field of college counseling and join your state/regional NACAC affiliate. I follow my own advice by attending conferences and college programs, visiting college campuses, remaining active in my associations and continuing to serve on several committees in my profession.

    Your office walls are covered with pennants of the colleges and universities you have visited. How do you use the visuals in your office to help counsel students interested in attending college?

    I am proud to say I am a college geek! I have hundreds of pennants on my walls of colleges I have visited over the years. The pennant will not make it on my wall unless I have actually visited the campus. My office door is almost always open and is visible to all of the students entering Metro. My walls are colorful, in your face and are a constant reminder why students decide to attend Metro Academic. The goal and expectation after graduation is for a Metro student to matriculate to college and become a responsible citizen of our global community.  Otherwise Metro would not be the school for a student who doesn’t have these goals. Metro is a college prep school and our teachers and administrators do a phenomenal job of educating our students for the academic rigors they will face at college. 

    When I recommend colleges to students or when schools surface in a college search, students look to see if the pennants are on my wall. The visuals serve to remind students of this inner city Magnet school in mid-town St. Louis and of the possibilities of what can be and where current Metro students are attending, such as Yale University (CT), Princeton University (NJ), Columbia University (NY), Missouri State University, St. Louis University (MO), Colgate University (NY), Occidental College (CA), Truman State University (MO), Northwestern University (IL), Bowdoin College (ME), Carnegie Mellon University (PA), Case Western Reserve University (OH), Chicago State University (IL), the Military Academies, the University of Tulsa (OK), Washington University, Emory University (GA), Barnard College (NY), Wellesley College (MA), Lehigh University (PA), and New Mexico Institute of Technology—schools from Maine to California and from New York to New Mexico.

    What is the value of NACAC not only in your career, but in all aspects of your life? 

    From the time I started in the college admission field more than 30 years ago, NACAC has been a mainstay of my professional career. I have rarely missed a national conference. The association had been my “go to” organization for not only professional support and education, but also a blueprint to provide professional and ethical guidelines in the college counseling profession. When I face a moral and/or ethical issue in college counseling, I usually ask, WWND? What would NACAC do?

    What is something you’re passionate about outside of your career?

    I have a wonderful husband who has always been supportive of my passion for my career. I am proud of my son who is in a graduate degree program in public administration in Georgia. I am devout in my Catholic faith. I love attending the theatre (especially in New York) and consider going out for fine dining a necessity in my life.

    List five adjectives that best describe you: 

    • Supportive
    • Great sense of humor
    • Positive
    • Moralistic
    • Geekish
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