Staff Spotlight: Kevin McAllister
Kevin McAllister: School Counselor Making a difference, one student at a time
Every month we’ll be sitting down with one of our standout educators to talk about their unique perspective on the world of Career and Technical Education and what motivates them the most.
Kevin McAllister credits his high school counselor, Muriel Taylor, with turning his life around, helping him embrace education and become a successful individual.
“She was the first to get me to believe in myself,” he said. “I don’t know if she knows it or not, she really saved my life.”
It is has been his life work since his own school days to do the same thing for the at-risk youth he has worked with for past three decades. Today he is using his skills to influence and inspire the young men and women as a school counselor at the Center for Career Services, a position he came to in September.
The first in his family to attend college, Mr. McAllister received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Mercy College, where he also minored in psychology and criminal justice. He later received his Master of Science in Counseling, also from Mercy. He is duly credentialed as a School Counselor and Mental Health Counselor.
Mr. McAllister worked in the Department of Corrections for years and in 2005 had an opportunity to come to Southern Westchester BOCES. He began there as a community worker and eventually as a teacher’s assistant. When he received his master’s degree in school counseling, he was able to transition to the role of school counselor at SWBOCES’ Sprain Brook Academy, a school for incarnated youth operated in partnership with the Westchester County Department of Correction in Valhalla.
As that program evolved, Mr. McAllister had the opportunity to join the Center for Career Services to work with students in its Career and Technical Education programs. He was told he would be a good fit for the student population there.
“I kept saying I was a jail person,” Mr. McAllister said with a laugh. “That was my jam.”
“Very quickly I learned it was true — this is a good fit,” he said of his new position.
Mr. McAllister works with students enrolled in the Television Production, Sound Production and CISCO, Pre-Engineering and Security, Law and Policing programs.
It could not have been a more perfect fit. Not only does Mr. McAllister have years of experience counseling youth, he also has a side gig working with his brother as a DJ for their company DTE, Divine Truth Entertainment. He also has known Ray Sulla, who teaches Security Law and Policing, for years as they were both involved in union work.
“Are you kidding me,” Mr. McAllister said of his reaction to learning what groups of students he would be working directly with at Careers. “They are programs that agree with me and who I am.”
In addition to counseling students, Mr. McAllister said he views his role as an ambassador for Career and Technical Education. He understands that not all students are college-bound, and he has worked with at-risk youth for years, seeing them grow and develop into mature, capable individuals who put their pasts behind them and become successful in a chosen profession. He knows what they are capable of achieving.
“I’ve been supporting kids in education. I mentor kids. I understand how having a mentor can save your life,” he said. “It amazes me I get paid for doing something I love, something I would do for free.”
The key to working with young people, he said, is to meet them where they are in their lives. From there, he can help them create a plan and discern how they can best use their skills. A large part of this is not what they learn in the classroom. It comes down to respect — for themselves and those working to help them.
“I’m a big fan of the concept of what BOCES stands for. BOCES is a win-win. Students can use it as a catalyst for the future,” he said. “I see what it does for a kid. The kids are my boss. I work for the kids.”
“I can be proactive. I can get the kids before they head down a bad path,” he continued. “You wake up that sleeping giant. If they don’t have something constructive to do, they become destructive.”
It is why he is always checking in with his students, they weren’t in school today. Why? He will text or call a student if he has to find out what is taking them away from school.
“Making that commitment to kids is immeasurable,” he said, adding he has always told the youth he works for that if he can do it, they can as well.
It was not always easy for him. He grew up without a father, moved around the area and even got into trouble having been accused of selling drugs. His own school counselor vouched for him and told him he has a bright future, and he should not be wasting it. That was all the motivation he needed. Now he hopes he can be a motivator for someone else.
“It goes back to Ms. Taylor. She was there. I was scared of her, but it was a healthy fear,” he said. “I wake up everyday, my day starts when the kids show up. My niche is being a broker, the middleman, to help people out.”