Abdul Latif, Counselor
By Isaac Olson
Born into a military family, Abdul Latif spent his youth moving across the country from San Diego to Florida to New Orleans to Georgia. After settling back in San Diego for the second time, Latif made his way into the San Diego City College, where he earned a degree in African American studies before mastering in counseling. Latif is a devoted player of ping-Pong and chess. Latif has been working in the district for 27 years before landing at Lowell, which he describes as a “dream come true.”
What would you say is the biggest challenge of what you do, being a counselor?
I’ve been a counselor for 14 years. I started off at Willie Brown Middle School, which is probably one of the rougher schools in the district. I had to be more of a dean, putting out fires. I had about two, three hundred kids. Then when I left for the Civic Center under pupil services, that’s the kids who get suspended or get in trouble down there. So I really didn’t do any academic counseling. I went to fill in at Burton for three years. The principal felt like he needed someone to deal with tardiness, so he created a position for me: tardy coordinator. This was the first time I’ve ever done academic counseling but I have some of the most important colleagues I ever met. This group right here, they’ve been helping me, supporting me. I’ve been catching up, but that’s been a very large obstacle, learning all the procedures and all the stuff I need to know to do academic counseling. But I’m catching on.
Anything you find rewarding about it?
I found a lot. This work with students, they’re some of the most motivated, some of the most well mannered respectful students I’ve been around. The staff here. My colleagues are wonderful, the teachers are very wonderful. I’m just happy to be here.
What attracted you to come work here at Lowell?
My position at the counseling center got consolidated and the district told me I had to find a new position. So there really was no counseling position open, so they kept emailing me that Lowell had one. I called over and spoke with Mr. Dominguez or one of the other administrators, I can’t remember, and he told me, “I have a position, come over.” I told him my strengths weren’t really academic counseling, but mostly social, emotional support. I work really well with students and stuff, I develop relationships really well, so he brought me on board. And so I ended up at Lowell.
You’re probably closer to a role model yourself now but when you were younger, was there anyone you looked up to? Like someone that inspired you?
Well, being in a military family, I really looked up to the guys that were on my dad’s shift because my dad was gone a lot, so they would come over and spend a lot of time with me, take me on a shift to eat lunch. They were very instrumental. They got me on a boxing team, playing sports and stuff, making sure I had tennis shoes. Because my dad was always gone, he worried about his own stuff more. So a lot of people that served with my dad on the ship were really instrumental and supportive of me. When you move a lot, it really affects transitions. You have to go to another school, you meet different kids and so the transition was tough, so they really supported me a lot.
Do you have any hobbies or pastimes?
I love to play chess, and also ping-pong. I just found out about Lowell’s ping-pong club.
Imelda Garcia, Counselor
By Angela Chen
Imelda Garcia was born in San Diego and lived 30 minutes away in San Marcos, until moving to San Francisco this fall to be a counselor at Lowell. She studied human development as an undergraduate at California State University San Marcos, and later received her master’s degree in counseling at the University of San Diego. Despite originally planning to become a nurse, Garcia discovered that her true calling was building close relationships with students as a counselor. As a first-generation student, she hopes to provide resources and opportunities that she never had access to when in school.
Did you decide to become a counselor immediately after you graduated or was there a period where you had another career?
I did have some time with a different career. After high school, I knew that I wanted to help people, but I originally wanted to do nursing. So, I was on track to be a nurse. Then after my first year, I moved up to the sciences so it was the next step. I remember I was very stressed because I had to email them, letting them know if I accepted my spot in the program. I said, ‘No,’ and decided I actually wanted to do counseling because of my experience being a first- generation student, working with students that were learning a different language. I figured out that that was what I wanted to do and offer support for students like myself or for students that just needed extra support.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
I was never such a huge fan of math. I really like English. English was the subject that I liked the most in high school. History was a close second, just because I liked hearing about the past and what we can do to kind of avoid that loop.
What led you to become a counselor?
Even as a student with all the resources like economic, social, whatever it might be, I think you just always need extra support, someone who will kind of guide you, who will maybe have a non-biased view of you. So for me I always needed extra support in high school. As a first-generation student I didn’t know about college or what the requirements were, what was the difference between a UC and a private school. So for me it was just seeing students who didn’t have the support at home, or maybe had too much pressure at home, and seeing how do you then provide a helping hand.
What message do you want to send to the students at Lowell?
Oh my goodness. It’s a hard one. I think just to know I’m someone who’s always trying to have your back. I’m never trying to say no to you just because I want to say no, that it’s a welcoming space. I welcome all identities, messages, whatever it might be. And I’m just excited to be able to be on this journey with you. And take it one step at a time.
What are some of your passions or some things you enjoy doing outside of counseling or school-related activities?
I like to run, work out a lot, hike, and go to the beach. I like to write, journal — small poetry here and there.
Melissa Van Gelder, Counselor
By Layla Wallerstein
Born in San Francisco, Melissa Van Gelder attended the French American International School, where her favorite subjects were math and theater. She then went on to UCLA, where she received a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies, with a minor in education. Van Gelder joined Lowell High School a few weeks into the school year after leaving her temporary position at Marina Middle School, and now sits in a welcoming and colorful room in the counseling office. She’s excited to support students and be a part of the Lowell community
What did you do before coming to Lowell?
I’ve done lots of things! I spent the majority of my career working in community-based organizations (CBOs), so I have been an after school teacher, I have been the program manager of an after school program and a summer program, and I was the manager of social emotional wellness programs for a CBO for a few years. And that was when I made my choice to go back to school to get my master’s degree.
Why did you want to become a counselor?
It is a very humbling experience to work with young people. And I’ve had the privilege to work with incredible young people and their families throughout my career. I think it was my work in CBOs that made me realize the counselor position was just an amazing role. It’s very versatile, we do a lot — as counselors we hold a lot of hats. But it’s a role in which you get to advocate for the young people that we work with, get to help bridge relationships with other people, and really it’s a role in which we get to support students. That’s the job, and I think that that can be very impactful and powerful.
What’s the biggest challenge of being a counselor?
I think the biggest challenge so far — and I’m going to be honest, if you were to ask me this question in a year, or even three weeks, my answer would probably be different — is that I think sometimes we wear a lot of hats, we juggle a lot of different things. So that can be a lot sometimes.
What’s your impression of Lowell so far?
Everyone here has been really welcoming. I’ve had so many students, even before I was making reg runs, come by and be like, Hi you’re the new counselor, this is my name, let me introduce myself. And that’s been amazing, I’ve felt very welcomed. And the counseling team here is really awesome, so I’ve really appreciated how welcoming the community has been, especially coming in two weeks after the school year started.
Outside of your work, what do you enjoy doing?
I have two cats. Their names are Otis and Pablo. They just turned two. They’re siblings, and I adopted them when they were five months old from the SPCA. I adopted them in February 2020, so I did not know that we would be going into a pandemic, but we’ve spent a lot of time together as a result of that. So I spend time with my cats. I also love to read, especially mysteries and thrillers, and I enjoy a good walk around the city.