New Hayden High School counselor Nicole Dolence started her first real counseling job when the district began classes Tuesday. Dolence, who joined Hayden after a semester at Moffat County High School, completed graduate school in May 2008.

Photo by Jack Weinstein

New Hayden High School counselor Nicole Dolence started her first real counseling job when the district began classes Tuesday. Dolence, who joined Hayden after a semester at Moffat County High School, completed graduate school in May 2008.

Counselor begins new role at Hayden High School

— There's one thing Nicole Dolence, the new counselor at Hayden High School, said she's not worried about.

"In a small high school like this, I won't be mistaken for a student," she said. "But it has happened in bigger schools where I did internships."

Dolence, 27, started her "first real counselor job" when Hayden began classes Tuesday for the 2009-10 school year.

After working with at-risk youths last fall as a wilderness field counselor for Mountain Homes Youth Ranch in Vernal, Utah, Dolence, a native of Moorhead, Minn., said she wanted to get into schools and start her career. She was able to land a job with Moffat County High School through a grant program for at-risk and truant students for the second semester last school year.

But when the year ended, so did her job. She wanted to stay in Northwest Colorado because she felt she didn't get to spend enough time in the area. Fortunately, a job was available in Hayden.

"Nicole was our strongest applicant without a doubt. She was the best fit," said Principal Troy Zabel, who added that her background and training, including the time she spent in Moffat County, made her a good addition to the high school. "I'm really excited to have her on board."

Dolence said she became interested in counseling after getting to know her high school counselor and thought it was a good job. Dolence said she always cared about people and wanted to get into a helping profession.

But what really drives her, she said, is the energy in a school.

"It's fast-paced and always changing - no day is the same," she said. "High school students have so much to offer the world. To be able to guide them in their next step in the world is a very fulfilling job."

Pluses, minuses

Dolence said there are advantages and disadvantages to being a young counselor advising high school seniors about college scholarships and applying to schools.

She earned her graduate degree in school counseling from St. Cloud State University in May 2008.

Dolence said recent experience with online processes frequently used in higher education, such as researching and applying to schools, helps in her new job.

That's one of the things that made her attractive as a job candidate, Zabel said.

"It's evolving so quickly," he said about the way colleges operate. "She's on top of that being fresh out. I think that's a big benefit to us."

But a disadvantage, Dolence said, was being in a new state, learning new colleges. She said her biggest concern was getting everything students needed.

Dolence has a couple of goals for the upcoming school year. She wants to get to know every student, on some level, throughout the year. And Dolence hopes she can be a person any student can approach.

"I hope that translates to the kids," she said. "My door is always open, not just for academics, if they need to talk. I want to be a safe spot where they can come."

For the past couple of weeks, Dolence has been learning the ropes of the district and high school.

She hopes to get more involved with the school, coaching soccer at some point after coaching last year at Moffat County, but she said that probably won't happen until next year.

She said the job has been a bit overwhelming but good.

Tuesday morning, a few students were ready to request schedule changes before the morning bell rang at 8 a.m. The students hadn't heard that Zabel had excused Dolence from that job for a day.

"It's actually a lot quieter than I thought it would be," Dolence said about the first day.

"When I got here at 7:30 (a.m.), I had a line out the door. I thought it was going to be like that all day.

"Who knows what tomorrow will bring."

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