Unfortunately, students are always slipping through the cracks, starting as early as in kindergarten. Our local school district came up a with a creative way to catch these students early on.

In the fall of 2017 the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District tried out a new exercise in which they put photos of every student in the school on a wall and gave each faculty member five stickers. They asked the faculty to put the stickers on the photos of students they felt they had the biggest connection with, and asked students to do the same for faculty members. The point of all this? To pinpoint those students who were sliding through the cracks without having a faculty mentor at school. The students who didn’t have stickers near their name were targeted for the faculty to keep their eyes on.


The benefits of this exercise are twofold — not only was the district able to identify the students who needed special attention as part of their commitment to the power of connection, but they are able to use the list when tragedy strikes. When Bob Shaffer, Truckee High School’s longtime football coach, tragically died in a car accident this fall, the district knew that many students considered him their faculty confidant. They were able to call these 40-or-so students individually to break the tragic news.

The first week of February is School Counseling Week, and in honor of the amazing counselors who dedicate their lives to these students and their families we asked counselors Rachel Falk and Jessica Darkenwald a few questions about what being a school counselor means to them.

Rachel Falk, Glenshire Elementary

Why did you become a school counselor?

I absolutely love the kids! They are the reason I am a counselor. I have worked at the middle school, high school, and elementary levels, and enjoy all of them. At the elementary school, kids get off the bus and are so happy to see me and the staff. The kids hug me everyday. They write me love notes. They invite me to their birthday parties. They give me a treat on their birthday. They run to class with excitement. They love to learn, and they enjoy school and their teachers.

What do you love most about your job?

I believe I am helping to shape the future generation. I am helping to create a foundation for character, healthy friendships, making appropriate choices, having empathy, and problem solving. Additionally, I help cultivate the development, core beliefs, and attitudes toward education, social-emotional capacity, and what they want to do in their lives. I am the child’s advocate in all areas, and will always strive to help them with their voice in school, with families, and in the community.

Jessica Darkenwald, Kings Beach Elementary

Why did you become a school counselor?

Since I was a teenager I have had a strong interest in social justice and prevention work. I began my career doing various forms of prevention education in the K-12 setting. Despite having many roles, I always interfaced with the school community through the school counselor. From my prevention work, it became clear to me that the relationships I witnessed between the school counselor and the kids was profound and offered the biggest opportunity for meaningful impact.

Aside from being lucky enough to have a job I find both challenging and meaningful, I am deeply thankful I get to work with the most amazing administrator, teachers, school psychologist, and support staff. Kings Beach Elementary is chalk full of adults who care about kids’ academic and social-emotional growth. It is a team environment where the child’s wellbeing comes first. Being of part of a team has always been important to me, and when I am at work I know that we are working together to provide the best environment possible for each child.

What do you gain from the students you work with?

Besides laughs and joy the biggest thing I gain is hope for the future. My heart is full when I think of the level of social, emotional, and academic education kids at KBE receive. They know about the importance of a diverse and kind community, and I know these kids will carry this knowledge forward as they move through life.


  • Ally Gravina

    Ally Gravina is a freelance journalist and former Moonshine editor based in Graeagle. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in arts and culture reporting.

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