“I always knew that I wanted to work in some type of helping field,” said New York State School Counselor of the Year Carla Young. As an undergraduate and graduate student, she participated in as many internships, volunteer projects, and job shadow opportunities as she could — in a kindergarten classroom, a mental health association, a human resources office, even a maximum security prison, to explore different career paths. She originally enrolled in Russell Sage College’s Forensic Mental Health master’s program, expecting to pursue a career in corrections counseling, but an internship with a school counselor inspired her to switch to Sage’s Professional School Counseling master’s program

Today, Young is a middle school counselor at Bethlehem Central School District, just outside of Albany, New York; an adjunct professor in Sage’s school counseling program; the leader of Ethical Edge SEL Consulting Services (SEL stands for Social Emotional Learning); and the New York State School Counseling Association’s School Counselor of the Year (one of her former graduate students, now a colleague, nominated her for the award from the NYS School Counseling Association!)

In the following Q & A she shares what she enjoys about her work, the initiatives that helped her stand out for statewide recognition, and how she continues to learn from her graduate students. 

(And yes, she is always encouraging her elementary-through-master’s degree students to get as much hands-on experience as possible: “That really helped me to narrow down what I wanted to do.”)

What was it about your school counseling internship that inspired you to switch to a School Counseling graduate program?

I was finishing up my internship at Dannemora prison, and I really loved that, but the more I got into it, I started to see that every day would be the same. 

School counseling is a nice combination of a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s meetings and talking to adults all day. Sometimes it’s presentations, sometimes it’s meeting individually with kids, sometimes a group of kids. You’re in a school, so there’s the fun stuff of the school plays and the clubs. 

I really liked the interaction with the students, and also the variety of every day being a little bit different.

The role is changing! When I first started, school counselors were really not in the classroom that much, and I’m glad that it has changed to be more interactive with all the kids.

You joined the Bethlehem School District shortly after you received your master’s degree from Russell Sage. Tell me about your work there. 

I’ve been a middle school counselor for 20 years. This year I’m back to 100% middle school. 

For the last couple of years I worked on some projects to build our district’s counseling program. I was in the elementary school, middle school, and high school delivering lessons on building healthy relationships and sexual misconduct prevention. 

I was doing more and more research on The Red Zone — August, September, October, and November, when the highest number of sexual assaults involving first-year students happen on college campuses — and realizing this is also a K-12 issue. 

Those are the students that we just sent off. And we can send them with better tools. I started talking with students and doing focus groups at the high school, and this district is amazing and supported me to dive into this more. 

We started building lessons in fifth grade and then building upon each year until 12th grade. The topic of healthy relationship boundaries is now within the curriculum. Every year there’s some type of discussion about it.

I worked across the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and I really enjoyed it so much. 

Middle school is my favorite and will always be my favorite, but it was so much fun being in the atmosphere of the elementary school with the fifth graders.The class is pretty much together all day, so that had more of a family feel to it. 

High school was fun because I got to see my former middle school students, and we were able to have really good discussions. 

You also teach in Sage’s Professional School Counseling program. What do you enjoy about that?

I love my job at Bethlehem working with the middle school kids, so having an opportunity to share it with people who are interested in the field is very energizing.

A lot of times Sage students bring up different topics from other schools or other sites, and they’ll ask me questions about it. And I realize, oh, I’ve got to get on this, I didn’t know that was such an issue. They end up keeping me up to date on what’s going on!

And they have really creative, great ideas. This past year, a student came up with such a good classroom lesson that I wanted to try it at Bethlehem. So I invited her in, and we ended up doing a version of it in one of the sixth grade classes.

A few years ago, a Sage student found the documentary Finding Kind, and she presented it to our PTO, and they found funding to have a show of that film. 

It’s a really good relationship where we both benefit from collaboration, constant collaboration.

It is especially cool that your former student, now colleague, Darnell Douglas spearheaded your nomination for NYS School Counselor of the Year. I know the nomination highlighted your district project about healthy relationships. What else did it highlight?

One of the things that Darnell highlighted that I feel very strongly about is the American School Counseling Association’s professional standards. I teach a class at Sage called “Implementing the ASCA National Model.”

Social Studies, English, Science, PE, all of those subject areas have curriculum standards, scope, and sequence that they follow. School counselors have that as well, and they’re developed through ASCA. They’re called our mindsets and behaviors. 

When he wrote the letter nominating me, Darnell wrote that I will remind people what our ethical standards are. To me, it makes the job so much easier because we don’t have to say, “I think this is a good idea.” It’s a lot harder to debate when it’s written in our standards that we have to do it. There can be a lot of tricky decisions to make in school counseling, and ASCA supports us in making those decisions. It is much easier to say, “Here are the standards. This is what we have to do.”

ASCA just wrapped up their event in Washington, D.C., for last year’s school counselors of the year. I’m looking forward to working with the previous New York State Counselor of the Year and going to Washington for School Counseling Week 2025. 

 Are you working toward other personal or professional milestones? 

I am starting my own business! It is called Ethical Edge SEL Consulting.

I’ve worked with a couple of school districts, helping them to build their school counseling programs in alignment with ASCA. There’s that piece of it, working with school districts. 

The other piece of it is working with students and families. I collaborate with a social worker, and we run discussion groups with guardians. When I went to school, nobody was having conversations about building healthy relationships and sexual misconduct prevention. Now that schools are starting to do that more, what are the conversations that parents should be having? We have discussion groups with parents.

And then the third piece of it is a youth empowerment program that I developed called PILLARS, which stands for We are Proud Individuals Learning to Lead, while building Awareness of healthy Relationships and Safety plans to keep ourselves and others around us safe from harm.

I’ve been doing things on the side here and there, and then decided to pull it all together. It’s just been a couple of months. But it’s an official business!