High school career-path program helped San Francisco woman find calling 

click to enlarge Counselor Olivia Leung patrols the hallway at Aptos Middle School, where she helps kids make the transition to high school. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Counselor Olivia Leung patrols the hallway at Aptos Middle School, where she helps kids make the transition to high school.

When Olivia Leung attended Abraham Lincoln High School, she knew she wanted to work with children one day, but wasn't sure in what capacity. After enrolling in Career Academies and Pathways, she found her calling.

Leung now works as a sixth-grade counselor at Aptos Middle School near the Ocean Avenue corridor. This school year is her first as a full-time counselor, and she credits the courses she took in the academy for steering her on her career path.

"You might have an interest, but you might not know your passion," Leung said of participating in the courses. "It doesn't hurt to try."

Career Academies and Pathways are programs aimed at offering experiences and career exploration. Starting in their sophomore years, students spend three years taking elective and core classes that focus on a certain career or field of study. During summer months, students volunteer at jobs within their fields of interest. Academies vary in subject matter, from the education, childhood development and family services programs Leung enrolled in to building and trades, hospitality and tourism, and information technology.

The San Francisco Unified School District currently offers eight different academies at eight high schools, with some offering more than one. All courses count toward high school graduation requirements, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

For Leung, when a friend mentioned to her the possibility of taking the academy course, she became curious.

Leung said she was always a good student and enjoyed learning, but nothing sparked her interest until she enrolled in the academy courses, which opened her eyes to psychology.

Leung graduated from Lincoln High in 2006, then earned a bachelor's degree from UC Santa Cruz. She completed her master's in pupil personnel services at the University of San Francisco in May.

While in college, Leung interned at Leadership High School in Balboa Park and Marina Middle School. At both schools, she continued to learn more about the field of counseling. Though she hopes to one day return to high school counseling, Leung said she's enjoying helping kids transition from elementary school to middle school.

"I have a fondness for sixth-graders," she said. "They have so much room for growth."

As Leung settles into her role at Aptos, she hopes to be a resource for the community both in and outside of school.

"I've always wanted to come back to San Francisco and give back to the community by helping these kids," she said.

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