Honored guidance counselor turns off his light

Brodhead+is+spending+the+last+few+school+days+and+the+rest+of+the+summer+writing+letters+of+recommendations+for+his+junior+students.

Photo Credit: Lilia Wood

Brodhead is spending the last few school days and the rest of the summer writing letters of recommendations for his junior students.

by Lilia Wood, Editor-in-Chief

Mr. Dan Brodhead made his way to the podium deliberately: he knew exactly what he would say when he reached the top of the stairs and surveyed the hundreds of faces looking up toward him from beneath the cubic brims of graduation caps.  He had been planning this speech for years, whether he had realized it or not.  

It was June of 2003.  The sun was bright on the field, and a few parents in the bleachers were noticeably uncomfortable.

What he told that graduating class as its graduation speaker was some of the best advice he could give, even considering that in 2003 he had only been working as a guidance counselor for less than a year.

The words he said, though, still resonate with him today.

“Class of 2003,” he began loudly and clearly, “You get sucked into where you want to make the most money. Really, you got to find the job in an area that you are passionate about and you love. Because, if you do, it will never feel like work.”

According to Brodhead, he himself has not been working since 2003 — an ironic statement coming from a man who wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning and occasionally “opens the school” at 5:30 a.m., who claims that a week during which he works only five days is “like a vacation,” and who arrives early to train middle school quarterbacks, on a volunteer basis, twice a week in the fall and spring.

Yet over the past 14 years, Brodhead will tell those who congratulate him on his retirement, he has not been working a single day.

“You can always make money,” Brodhead had told that graduating class of 2003. “You can’t make happiness.”

Brodhead began his career in education 35 years ago and came to Glen Rock as its athletic director in 1995. He soon realized that working solely in athletics did not leave him fulfilled at the end of the day, yet he cherished the moments when he could talk to the athletes and give them advice.

Brodhead thus got his certification to be a guidance counselor, and, on Oct. 22, 2002, he made the transition from the athletic department to the guidance department.

“If you look at my career, I have essentially had two careers,” Brodhead explained. “The first fifteen years I spent working at five different high schools in five different counties. The next 21 years I spent here. A lot of people were joking ‘Why did you stay?’ Well, because it is my home.”

Kids are way more stressed than they used to be.”

— Dan Brodhead

Brodhead made his home in the guidance department over the next 20 years, working with the likes of former principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and his fellow guidance counselors.  Throughout his tenure, he endeared himself to many of his co-workers, such as guidance counselor Larry Wolff.

For Brodhead, his greatest joy has always been helping students.  He has seen the world change over the years, and he has witnessed firsthand the piling stress on students’ shoulders. He says most of this is due to pressure to attend top colleges.  He has even seen the stress trickle down to middle school students who enter the high school already burdened with anxiety.

“The things we deal with today, we weren’t dealing with when I just got to guidance. The suicide and the stress and the anxiety and the depression. I am sure there was some of it out there and it wasn’t talked about as much and now it is more open,” Brodhead said. “Kids are way more stressed than they used to be.”

Brodhead said that his favorite aspect of being a guidance counselor, though, has been working with children and helping them overcome their troubles.  Despite the struggles and hard times he sees students go through, he finds it rewarding when he is able to help them.

“There are so many wonderful kids and so many wonderful families that I have gotten to know,” said Brodhead, reflecting on his time in the district.

It is the most respected honor in the building because it is your peers, especially here in guidance.”

— Dan Brodhead

For all his work in the school district, Brodhead was awarded the 2016 Robert Ax Award, a distinction that the school faculty votes upon yearly. He said that receiving this honor from his peers was the greatest recognition he could ask for.

He contrasted the Robert Ax ceremony with a normal faculty meeting, one in which members might be chit-chatting or talking during presentations.

“When it comes in Robert Ax, and the person walks up to begin the presentation, everybody stays quiet,” he said. “It is the most respected honor in the building because it is your peers, especially here in guidance.”

As a guidance counselor, Brodhead explained, he has diverse interactions with teachers from every department. The experience of receiving the Robert Ax Award has left, in his words, feeling a bit like famous basketball player Kobe Bryant on his retirement tour.

“Everyone knew [Bryant] was retiring, so, every place he went, they do something nice. That’s what is has been like,” Brodhead said. “So many nice emails. So many congratulatory notes.”

The people whom Brodhead affected still remember him today. One student who graduated in 1985, 31 years ago, contacted him upon reading in the Gazette about Brodhead’s upcoming retirement to express appreciation and congratulations to his former coach.

Throughout his time as an educator, Brodhead has always advised children to appreciate life.

He tells students that these are the happiest years of their lives and that he truly wishes for “kids to be happy.”  He doesn’t want the students he works with to grow to be his age and feel regret that they didn’t live life to the fullest when they were younger.

Now, though, Brodhead is retiring. It is already hard for him to leave the place he has come to call home over 21 years.

His first point of business after retiring from his position in Glen Rock, though, may be surprising: he is going to stay in the school building.

After students go home for summer break, Brodhead will stay and write recommendation letters for all of the junior students under his purview.

“I don’t want to leave them,” he said.

Brodhead will also stay on as a volunteer football coach. Speaking of head coach Jim Kurz, Brodhead said that he “didn’t want to leave coach in a lurch looking for somebody.” He also looks forward to seeing how quarterback Matt Schlett, whom he has been working with for three years, will progress as a senior next year.

Brodhead explained that it’s a long drive between Glen Rock and his new job, but he’s prepared to make it work.

Being a guidance counselor, Brodhead said, was what he was meant to do.  A mentor once told him two pieces of advice. The first was that, whenever he was having a tough day, he should call down the four best kids and have a conversation with them. The second was that every day would whiz by with so many different responsibilities.

That’s certainly true for Brodhead.

“There are a lot of people who think, even sometimes my peers, that guidance has it easy and they are up there drinking coffee and talking to kids in their office,” he said. “Every day is a sprint for me. It makes the day go very fast. 21 years and I haven’t read the paper in this office once.”