Have you ever felt a tangible, electric sense of excitement in the air? Like the thrill that comes on Christmas morning or as you walk towards your first Mardi Gras parade?
Chances are, you’ll feel similarly when Counselor Natasha Overstreet approaches you – her energy, passion, and vision are electric!
Natasha has been a school counselor for over a decade, and for the last eight years, she’s been the Pathway School in Mobile, Alabama’s Star Academy site Counselor. During that time, Natasha’s love for her students and passion for their success has made her a leader within the Star Academy Network, known as the Krewe of Astraea. Natasha often develops best practices, then shares them with Krewe of Astraea members across the nation. Needing some encouragement? Facing a challenge? Natasha is right there to help you develop a plan, then cheer you on across the finishline. That’s why it’s no wonder that earlier this year, Natasha was awarded the most prestigious Krewe of Astraea award offered: The Grand Marshal honor.
The Grand Marshal honor is a well-known New Orleans and Mardi Gras tradition – this individual serves as the energetic leader of the annual Mardi Gras parade. Likewise, NOLA’s Grand Marshal honor is awarded to a Krewe of Astraea member whose contagious energy and passion for Star Academy just doesn’t quit. And Natasha Overstreet? She fits the bill perfectly.
“I just love being a Star Academy program counselor,” said Natasha. “This program, the environment it creates, and the opportunity it gives these students – it’s truly a game changer for so many of them. Its not an easy job to get students in the door: as counselors, we’ve got to recruit them, get their parents on board, overcome their reservations, and get students showing up to the program daily. Then, after a while, it’s like a light bulb comes on – they start feeling something they haven’t in a long time: hope and some pride in themselves. And that’s when the game really changes for these kids.”
During our interview, Natasha told us that she believes that counselors may underestimate their role in their Star Academy program’s success, and myth she believes needs de-bunked.
“As counselors, we must be the biggest cheerleaders, advocates, and salespeople for Star Academy out there,” said Natasha. “We have to help students, parents – and even sometimes teachers and administrators – see and believe in what’s possible for students who really embrace this program. You see, Star Academy is different from traditional classrooms and different scares people. But that’s why it works. That’s why it’s reaching students. When they can get hands-on, explore and investigate the world, and immerse themselves in an environment that wants them to succeed, they start to see what’s really possible for them – in and beyond the classroom.”
Natasha believes successful counselors need to exhibit a few key characteristics to really thrive as a Star Academy site counselor.
“You’ve got to be upbeat, filled with hope, and passionate,” Natasha told us. “Often, we’re dealing with students and parents who feel run down, like they can’t succeed in the system of education. And the teachers, sometimes they’re feeling that way too. That’s why we have to encourage, encourage, encourage and invest in people, not the numbers they represent.”
Lifting up others and building relationships with parents is also a crucial part of the recruiting process, according to Natasha.
“I always try to find two things to say to each parent during each interaction: a compliment about their child and a compliment for the parent themselves,” said Natasha. “Sometimes, that compliment could be as simple as, ‘Girl, I’m loving those nails!’ or ‘Your son is doing a great job at getting to school on time – I bet that’s a skill you taught him.’ You’d be surprised how far a compliment can go in helping conversations move along smoothly while building rapport with and self-confidence for the parent.”
Students also thrive when compliments and encouragement are sent their way, however, that’s not enough to get every student on-track in difficult times.
“As a counselor, we have to be observant and try to identify the minute details that others may miss, but could really be affecting our students,” Natasha said. “For instance, if a student isn’t showing up to class on time, it doesn’t always mean they’re being intentionally irresponsible – sometimes they don’t have an adult they can depend on to get them where they need to go, or ensure they have what they need when they get there. Seeing behavior issues? Search out root causes: for instance, maybe they’re being bullied for the way the smell – which is because they don’t have running water at home. We only see a little glimpse of a students life while they’re at school, but we’ve got to try to put the rest of the puzzle together, so we can help them feel safe, focused, and learn while they’re with us.”
“My mom and dad have been the biggest inspiration and best examples I could ask for,” Natasha said. “Their ‘golden nuggets of wisdom’ still guide me today!”
Natasha comes by her love for students and passionate leadership style honestly – they’re all traits she honed by seeing her parents exhibit them daily in her own home. Natasha’s mother, Ernestine Overstreet was a long-time educator who taught Natasha to care about every student’s story and remember that each has a quality that makes them special. Her father, Rev. Dr. Rudolph Overstreet, displayed leadership skills and a servants heart daily at home and behind the pulpit (and the scenes) at Ebenezer Baptist Church of Mobile. A beloved college professor, Dr. Brown of Alabama State University was also an inspiration to Natasha, as he encouraged all of his students to think long term, and build strategies, not short term plans: ‘Remember to play chess, not checkers in life!’ he would often say.
Today, you’ll find Grand Marshal Natasha hard at work at the Pathways Star Academy site, where she’s motivating students, parents, teachers, and new counselors who are just beginning their first year in Star Academy. She’s always remind them and all of us:
“Take ownership of your program, believe in what’s possible, and start visualizing success,” said Natasha. “If you do those three things, and put in a lot of work and heart, big things will happen for your students this year – you can do it!”