Guidance counselor prepared students for their life ahead



Saffiya Sheikh, Horizon Charter School

As the school year wraps up and seniors at Horizon Charter School are getting ready to embark on the next chapter in their lives, so is another crucial member of Horizon’s community — Gabriel Robert.

At first glance, it may seem like it’s not a big deal, and just another change of staffing. However, it goes beyond that. 

At Horizon Charter School, only two guidance counselors (Melora Klusnick and Robert) carry these responsibilities and additional tasks that come with them. Those tasks can vary from developing personalized course plans (with their supervising teachers) for students to understanding students’ career goals.

Guidance counselors are crucial to students’ success, and being one is no easy feat. According to the California Department of Education, they are taught to perform in various capacities: 

  • Developing and implementing a counseling program for students’ academic and social development 
  • Constructing a positive and safe environment for students 
  • Recognizing and understanding students’ strengths and weaknesses and using that as tools for teaching 
  • Increasing awareness of mental health in the school environment and programs related to it
  • And more. 

Robert worked at Horizon Charter for eight years and has come a long way since his arrival. 

“I started in August 2015,” Robert said. “I can’t believe it has been that long, I still remember on my first day that I had a teacher walk up to me and start asking me questions! I was like a deer in the headlights.” 

Robert had plans to be in a guidance counselor position after graduating from California State University, Sacramento, in 2012. It didn’t go as he expected.

“I wanted to, but it didn’t happen right away,” he said. “I worked at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) … as a student assistant for CalSTRS while getting my master’s degree.”

Robert said CalSTRS offered an excellent working environment, but not the job satisfaction he wanted. 

“My heart really wasn’t into the work,” Robert said. “I felt discouraged and frustrated that I couldn’t find a counseling position until I learned about (the Horizon position) from someone I attended Sac State with.”

Despite all of the risks and doubts that came with leaving CalSTRS, he took the chance and made it as a counselor at Horizon. 

“I felt it was a bit of a risk to leave my stable position at CalSTRS, but I am glad I took the chance,” he said. 

However, his time at Horizon ended sooner than he expected – he left Horizon on April 11 for the Sacramento City Unified School District, where he now serves as the Director of Student Services.

Colleagues said Robert had made an impact on the people around him and those he has worked with, whether with course schedules or personal issues.  

Julie Powell, Horizon’s High School Academy regional administrator and principal, worked with Robert for the past two years. 

“When I first started working with Mr. Robert, it was more in the capacity of assisting eighth-grade students going into high school and talking about how Horizon can meet their needs because I was a parent mentor,” Powell said. 

However, in her new role as regional administrator, she worked with Robert on different issues, specifically about engaging with students and helping those in crisis. She also saw how he built strong relationships with students.

“Not only did he build relationships with students, he was able to do things like spread out their course load and coursework and consider where their mental space was now and give them options to help them feel more in control with their course studies,” Powell said. “Plus, it could be just advocating that they be able to drop a course or advocating that we’re flexible with them.”

Powell said Robert was especially helpful to students in crisis.

“There was a family where there were two brothers, and they had found themselves homeless,” Powell said. “There were a few times that there were about six people living in a hotel room. “It was just really hard for the boys to concentrate because they were distracted constantly.”

Powell said the boys had to attend a remote school in order to take care of family responsibilities, and going to a face-to-face school would have been very difficult. Robert was able to help one of the brothers work through those challenges.

“He was able to work with their schedule and their credits such that one of the brothers who was a senior is able to graduate this year,” Powell said. “Without that type of intervention from Mr. Robert, the student probably wouldn’t have graduated or would have had to go to adult school, so he definitely had an impact on that student.” 

According to Powell, Robert did more than take care of students’ course schedules and help them through tough times.  

“He coordinated a donation of funding from Intel,” Powell said. “The STEM Club was able to get two VR headsets funded through Intel and lots of mentorship between Intel staff and our high school students. Mr. Robert was integral in setting that up.” 

Horizon Charter senior Jalyssa Anguiano had Robert as a counselor for four years and worked with him on several occasions throughout her time at Horizon.

“He went to all the in-person meetings and the meetups they had at the pizza place,” Anguiano said. “He is great as a counselor because I think you need that connection with students, especially in person. He always liked making sure students were participating, and we always had meetups and stuff like field trips, and he always found out what we should do next.

Anguiano also talked about a time when Robert was able to help her discover what she wanted to major in at college. 

“In my freshman and sophomore years, I was unsure what I wanted to do for a career or major,” she said. “He always mentioned classes I should take and stuff. So once, I took a psychology class, either in my sophomore or junior year, which really explored my interest in psychology. If I hadn’t taken these college classes, I wouldn’t really be sure of what I would want as a career. It opened my mind and made me realize what I really wanted to do.” 

Robert offered advice that can apply to anybody from the experience he gained working as a counselor. 

“You (kind of) have to be fearless at times and not be afraid to speak your true opinion or point something out that might be uncomfortable to say but needs to be said,” Robert said. “I love that I feel comfortable enough admitting when I have not done something the best that I could or admitting a mistake was made.” 

Robert said transparency can help build trust.

“It happens to all of us, but I really believe in owning that and making it right,” Robert said. “I want everyone I work with to know that I am really there to help. If I have made a mistake or oversight, then I will work to correct it or figure out a way to move forward in a positive way.”

Robert also said he has embraced the value of being true to his word.  

“One thing that I have really come to embrace is integrity,” he said. “If I say I am going to do something, I really try to keep my word that I will. It is tough when there are a lot of demands, and staying organized when you are in back-to-back-to-back meetings and phone calls can be tough, but I treat that commitment to be sacred, and I really try.”