As seniors walk across the stage at McCallum High School’s graduation Thursday, school counselors Lucia Facundo and Mindy Croom will say goodbye to them like they do every year.
“I just love graduation,” Croom says. “I think it’s just a really fun day.”
“They’re nervous,” Facundo says of the students. “Their families are so happy.” It doesn’t matter which plan you graduated under, Facundo says. “You’re walking across that stage and you made it.”
This year, though, the school will also be saying goodbye to Facundo and Croom. Both are retiring — Facundo after 40 years in education, all at McCallum; Croom after 31 years in education, 17 at McCallum.
They both fell into education in a way that surprised them.
“It was the early ’70s,” Croom says. “Women were going to school to either be a teacher or a nurse.” After five different majors at the University of Texas, Croom thought, “I think I’ll be a teacher.”
She taught drama at Hill Country Middle School, then had her three children and was a real estate broker for 10 years before going back to school to get her master’s and become a counselor. She worked at Canyon Vista and Lamar middle schools before coming home to McCallum, where she and all three of her children had been students. (Facundo’s three children also attended McCallum.)
“I just love it,” Croom says.
She sees her time as a student at McCallum and her time as a counselor as “two completely different times in my life.” It helps that except for the gym and the cafeteria, much has changed since she was a student. Her office was just a field of grass back then.
Facundo majored in biology and went to Texas Woman’s University in Denton. She thought she might want to be pre-med but decided against it. She had the thought, “What can I do with a degree in biology?” While she waited a year for her husband to graduate college, she returned to school to get her master’s in education.
She finds it funny that she ended up in education. In high school she passed on a scholarship for future teachers. “Oh, no, give it to someone else,” she says.
When she and her husband graduated, they decided to move to Austin because it was halfway between Denton, where they were, and Laredo, where her family was.
She started as a science teacher at McCallum, but after three years she moved into the counseling office. The five counselors at McCallum call themselves the Guiding Knights, after McCallum’s mascot. They work as a team, which will be hard to leave.
“There will be an occasion where something will come up,” Croom says. “It’s good to throw it out to someone else. Even though we have experience with that, I still don’t consider myself an expert.”
Every day is different in the counseling office. Some days they’re helping a student dealing with a crisis. “That’s paramount,” Facundo says.
The worst part of their job is doing schedule changes. “We complain a lot about schedule changes, but that might be the one time you see that student all year,” Facundo says. They each have about 350 to 400 students they stay with through all four years of high school.
They both run into people who are in their 40s and 50s who remember them from when they were students. They’ve had the children of former students as well. They say they are careful not to let the current students know what their parents were like as students.
There are some differences they see in the kids they first worked with and today’s kids. Today’s kids are always on their phones. They never really get a break from having to deal with social issues because of social media. “You could go home and escape,” Facundo says. Now they live their lives on Snapchat. “They are not learning how to communicate with each other,” she says.
They also see kids under enormous pressure, especially pressure to be in the top 10 percent, to get into the right college, to not make any mistakes.
“We do a great disservice to our kids,” Croom says. For years, Croom thought she was top 10 percent in high school, until she looked up her own record. “Oh, fiddle dee dee, all these years, I thought I was the top 10 percent and I wasn’t,” she says. In the end, it didn’t matter.
While they want every kid to know they can go to college, they are concerned about the kids who are worrying about college in third grade. “Kids don’t really get to be kids,” Facundo says. “They don’t get to go outside and play.”
The drugs, the drinking, that’s all the same, but what they do see is a lot more kids with attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression.
They also remember a time when the fashion was very different. “Boys wore tucked-in shirts,” Facundo says. “They had to wear belts. Girls’ skirts had to be long skirts. They needed the base of the skirt to hit the lower calf or the dean of women would suspend them.”
Kids also had more respect for teachers. “There was more ‘yes, ma’am.’ They opened the door for you,” Facundo says. Now she has to tell students that there are words they can’t use in front of her.
Even with that, Croom says, “We have had wonderful kids all of my years.”
Facundo and Croom have plans for after graduation, which include spending more time with grandchildren and doing some things for themselves. Croom plans to take a fun class at Austin Community College, make some jewelry, watch more movies and write music. She plans to put her experience to work as a consultant. Facundo wants to read a book from start to finish, she says, and plans to secretly duck back into school to help the Guiding Knights as needed.
Croom and Facundo leave students and parents with this guidance:
Get off your phones and engage with your friends and family.
Choose your friends wisely.
Choose activities that are legal and great.
Be in charge of what you are doing. You need to be the one who registers for the SAT test. You need to know how to do this so when you get to college you’ll know what to do.
Life is a journey, not a race. If you make a mistake, all is not lost.
Accept the gift of education. Be like the refugee students who come school for the first time: Be in awe of all the opportunities that are in front of you.
Take advantage of the opportunities that are in Austin. Get on the bus and explore.
It doesn’t cost you anything to be kind.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Drink in the beauty. Take time to notice the beauty and details around you.
We make our own happiness.
Find opportunities to laugh.
High school will be over before you know it. Don’t wish it away. Enjoy every minute of it.
Model not being distracted by getting off your phones and engaging with your family.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
It’s OK to be upset with your child. Trust that your relationship will endure. Just don’t do something that will be damaging to your relationship.
As with everything, this will pass. You will like your kids again.
Do not take everything so seriously. What you are fighting about is probably very small.
Write down the things you appreciate about your child. It takes the air out of the balloon when you’re frustrated.
You need to be a parent, not your child’s friend.
You need to be a role model and tour guide but not do everything for them. High school is like a relay. It’s OK for parents to be holding the baton in ninth grade, but by 12th grade, the kids should be holding the baton and doing things for themselves.
When you get stressed out, just laugh. When laughing isn’t working, go out and exercise to get your heart rate up.
Croom had her own challenging child. “I’m a better person because she was my daughter,” she says.
Your kids are going to turn out OK.