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What’s her secret? Popular Seminole Ridge counselor is best in Florida

One reason why award-winning Seminole Ridge High School counselor Melissa Garcia is so successful is she is always there for her students.

Senior Rhiannon Boffa remembers e-mailing Garcia with a problem at 9:30 one night and she got a response two minutes later. Boffa leaned on Garcia for advice even more this past school year with the stress of college applications. She’ll be attending the nursing program at Florida Atlantic University and credits Garcia for motivation.

“She is truly an amazing counselor,” Boffa said. “She’s someone I can always rely on and count on.”

READ: Seminole Ridge High dance marathon surpasses fundraising goal

For Garcia, that’s just part of the job.

At 33, Garcia already has her PhD and was named Counselor of the Year in Florida and the Governor’s Shine Award that is open to all educators in the state — not just counselors.

Since coming to Seminole Ridge three years ago, Garcia has instituted new college prep activities and brought more colleges in for presentations.

“When you are in education, your life passes by so fast because there are so many things going on,” she said.

Her proactive nature has brought her success because her beyond-the-call-of-duty approach has helped:

- When she was a counselor at both Lake Worth High School and Santaluces High School, she made unanounced house calls to students who weren’t coming to school.

- She once counseled a student from a parking lot when he wouldn’t get out of the car for school. A couple years later, he came back back to her to thank her for pushing him.

READ: Mock election rallies Seminole Ridge class to learn about politics

A thank you from students means everything.

“It’s a rush of intense emotions. It give you goosebumps,” she said. “It’s the best feeling. It’s just pure satisfaction.”

Junior Malik Brann started coming to see Garcia regularly about two years ago when his grades weren’t where he wanted them to be. He wanted to go to college, but he needed a nudge in the right direction with a new approach.

Now he is already signed up for dual enrollment classes this summer and has better than a 3.0 grade point average. He still drops by to see Garcia once or twice a week, and she looks forward to the visits, affectionately calling him a “frequent flyer.”

He appreciates her thoughts that make his own decision-making easier.

“It gives us another perspective of what we should do and how we should keep pushing ourselves to do what we want,” he said.

Motivating students is another one of Garcia’s talents. Sure, it’s easier to guide students who always work hard, but she doesn’t always run into that attitude with teenagers.

“I am cognizant enough to know that I can’t just rely on motivated students,” she said. “I think I pride myself in motivating the unmotivated.”

READ: Students up-close look at farming

That means different things for different people.

She stresses the importance of a college education, but understands that college isn’t for everyone — as long as the student has a plan.

Principal James Campbell is happy for her — and that she’s at Seminole Ridge.

“I think it’s great because it’s giving her recognition for her hard work,” he said. “We can never recognize our educators enough for the hard work that they do every day.”

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