When I first came across the job posting for the Appalachian College Advising Corps in western North Carolina, I immediately started picturing my life back in the vortex of a high school: attending Friday night football games, getting caught up in spirit week, and making lasting connections with the students and small town community. I wondered what my placement school might be like--what would the mascot and school colors be? Would it be just as dinky as my own high school in rural southeastern Ohio? Would they accept me as one of their own? Little did I know, I was going to have the privilege of getting to know not one but TWO placement schools, affording me a challenging but incredibly rewarding advising experience.
Cherokee County, North Carolina is now where I call home, and I split my time between Andrews and Hiwassee Dam High Schools. Andrews High is on the eastern end of the county, located in the small, mountain-ringed town of Andrews, while Hiwassee Dam High is the westernmost high school in the state, nestled along a rural two-lane road just miles from the Tennessee border. The schools are about a 45 minute drive from one another, and I was lucky enough to find housing right between them, so I only have to drive roughly 20 minutes to work each day. I alternate days at the schools, aiming to spend equal time at both locations. I’m lucky to have small caseloads at both locations (~50 at AHS and ~40 at HDHS), so while I can only spend half the time a normal adviser would have at each site, I’m still able to get to know all of my students personally and work with them individually on their plans and goals for after high school.
Predictably, working at two different schools can be difficult and time consuming. Everything that I do and plan must be done twice: Two financial aid info sessions, two College Application Week events, two awards ceremonies, two Decision Days, two graduations. Two separate mass emails to families, two all-calls, two Instagram posts, two Canvas pages; all with the same underlying messages but with custom tweaks to match the progress, energy, and current events of the school they are destined for. My library on Canva (a graphic design platform) is a sea of duplicated graphics, half with red and black for Andrews and half with blue and white for HD. Scheduling events also can be a true headache, because if you thought finding an open night with no sporting events for one school was difficult, try balancing two calendars! Finally, sometimes I feel very torn, because it would be so easy to devote all of my time to just one school. I hate the feeling of letting people down, so it requires a lot of energy and attention to detail to make sure that everyone (students, school staff, and families) feels supported.
On the flip side, there are a lot of things I love about being a two-school adviser. To start, the weeks go by pretty quickly because I’m changing my scenery every day, and it’s not often I get caught in a lull with nothing to do, even in December (the doldrums of college advising). I’ve also felt double the force of southern hospitality and am blessed to belong to two different close-knit school communities that welcomed me into the fold so readily. I get to have double the fun with sporting events, especially when my schools play each other, even though I never know what to wear or where to sit (baseball and softball are easy--I just park my folding chair behind home plate). Finally, it’s just been so fun and informative to learn the intricacies and quirks of both schools and to see their wildly different but successful approaches to the same challenges and goals. I wouldn’t change my experience down here for the world, and am proud to be an Andrews Wildcat and a Hiwassee Dam Eagle! (Wild Eagle Cat for short!)
*Article written by Andrews/Hiwassee Dam Adviser Phoebe Thompson