BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Thirty-six years as a district educator came down to one afternoon, Thursday, Dec. 23, for Bloomfield High School counselor Manuela Gonnella. Growing up in Newark’s Ironbound section, attending East Side High School and Montclair State University, Gonnella did her college practicum and student teaching at BHS. And although she was hired as a history teacher for the high school, she was transferred to South Middle School and later to Bloomfield Middle School.
“I learned that change isn’t something we like or want,” she said last week. “But it taught me and made me a better teacher.”
Her mother always revered educators, she said, but it was not until high school that being a history teacher became her goal.
“I had two teachers who made history connect to everyday life,” she said. “Those classes went by so quickly. I’ve come to the conclusion that, if someone tells you they love history, it’s because they had good teachers.”
Gonnella decided to further her education and become a school counselor. Another school counselor encouraged her. “I took my time getting that degree,” she said. “And I’ve always used my teaching experience. It’s helped me to be a better counselor.”
Time was, Gonnella said, that a student’s high school counselor was called a guidance counselor, someone who directed the student toward a post–high school path. But the present-day school counselor is involved with the student’s academic, emotional and social needs.
“It encompasses so much more,” she said. “We have eight school counselors and three crisis counselors at BHS. Now, students come in for everything. The counselor is the liaison between students, parents, everything. We believe we’re on the front line of the school. It does take a village.”
Gonnella has been a school counselor for 19 years, working with sophomore- to senior-year students whose names begin with the letters S to Z. She’s leaving now, she says, because time has become more precious to her. She plans to travel, volunteer and “just enjoy life.”
“It’s a hard, bittersweet decision,” she said. “Bloomfield kids are a part of my persona. I can be in NYC and someone will call out my name.” And what to say to someone with a passion for history or the front lines?
“Do what you love,” she said. “You’ll never regret anything.”