Galligan named Student Council Advisor of the Year
News | Published on May 23, 2023 at 5:23pm EDT | Author: frazeevergas0
By Robert Williams
Frazee-Vergas High School counselor Megan Galligan was recognized for the second time in her career as the Minnesota State Western Division Student Council Advisor of the Year.
“I have been so passionate about student leadership since beginning my career in education, so I’m super proud of what my kids do and being able to be a part of that is really meaningful,” Galligan said.
The Student Council Advisory position was open in Frazee when Galligan accepted the counselor position nine years ago. The position was the second at the school as Galligan joined the team with Ta Fett.
“They added my position that year so we went from one school counselor to two and I had just met Ta at a couple counselor things so I was vaguely familiar with her, but I thought that was cool that they were adding another counselor because the recommended student ratio is 250 to 1. To have that in a small school isn’t all that common.”
While leading students was always in the cards, how to go about that took some time. Galligan earned her Bachelors of Science in University Studies in 2007 and a Masters in Counseling and Student Affairs 2014 at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She originally planned to teach health and physical education
“I got to a point where I love working with youth, but the classroom isn’t the right place for me,” she said.
She worked between degrees in a field that had nothing to do with school and that helped her find the path.
“It was always in the back of my head, but it took those years of doing a job that wasn’t going to be my career to process and mature and then I knew this is what I wanted,” said Galligan.
Her job search was aimed around central Minnesota and Minneapolis, St. Paul suburbs in an effort to be near her hometown of Alexandria where her parents still live and she had gained a fondness for the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The opening in Frazee presented both the counselor position, student council advising and coaching opportunities. For Galligan, in any of those roles, her pursuit was to be a positive resource to kids.
“I care very deeply about people and I just want to show them love and kindness,” she said. “Kids don’t always have that at home. I think about the educators I had and I fortunately came from a very loving home with two parents so I know how fortunate I was. I realized the impact my educators and coaches had on me. If I can be that adult for young people and I’m not that person for every kid, but that’s why we’re a community. Kids have their person in the building. If I can encourage a kid to lean on an adult they really trust, that’s what makes the difference.”
Fett and counselors around the area were a big asset to Galligan as she started her career.
“My first few years you’re just figuring a lot of things out, figuring out who you are as a counselor,” she said. “I was able to use input from Ta’s years of experience and other counselors I know to figure out who I am as a counselor and what works best for me.”
In the decade since, much has changed in the field.
“Even the terminology has changed from guidance counselor to school counselor because it encompasses more of what we do,” she said.
Much of counseling involves the usual college and career advising and academic support, but the social and emotional side of student interaction is equally important.
“We’re not therapists,” Galligan said. “Most of what we do on the social and emotional side of things is solution-focused, short-term support. If a student has a need beyond what we can provide service for, helping the student and family get additional support, suggesting mental health options or visiting with a doctor.”
Both counselors in Frazee had the benefit of full-time therapists at the school provided by Stellher Human Services and funded by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER) as part of the CARES Act. That funding expired on September 30, 2022.
“It’s been really helpful having Stellher in the school this year,” said Galligan. “Full-time mental health staff through Stellher that had a full caseload with a waiting list.”
Advising the student council was a return to Galligan’s roots and she has championed everyone from the typical council student to those that might be hiding in the shadows.
“I was involved in student council when I was in high school so I was open to advising or potentially coaching,” she said. “I have been the student council advisor ever since the day I started here. I knew I had a passion for student leadership, but it has just blossomed over the years and been so rewarding to see the students grow into these amazing leaders. I just want as many kids that want to be involved to be in our group because I think a lot of times there might be leaders who get overlooked because they’re not the loudest. That’s been a priority to me. Making sure I have a wide array of student leaders, not just in student council and athletics, but can truly represent the entire student body.”
Student council consists of freshmen students through seniors.
“I’ve seen every group of kids,” said Galligan. “They kind of start off a little timid as ninth graders, but they model the behaviors that are set for them. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great leaders and it’s really cool to see who emerges throughout the years. Some students join right away in ninth grade and others junior year or senior.”
Galligan has excelled in her job and her students have come along with her as Frazee-Vergas has taken a leadership role at the regional and state level of student council.
“I loved having that role here and getting involved locally and at the state level,” she said.
Frazee-Vergas is part of the Western Division of the Minnesota Association of student councils and the school has hosted the Division’s annual meeting the past two years at the Frazee Event Center.
Galligan has had multiple students in division leadership roles, including the vice president and two presidents. Students are nominated for those roles.
“My students have been really involved in our local division,” she said. “This coming year, junior Hailee Olson will be the Division President.“It’s been really cool to get my kids excited and involved there.”
Students can also run for state-level offices.
Annalynn Wallin, a Miss Frazee Outstanding Teen and scholarship winner at Miss Minnesota’s Outstanding Teen, recently ran for the state secretary position.
“She did not get it, but she ran a great campaign and received a lot of support from students and encouragement to run for a state office again next year as a junior,” said Galligan.
Wallin was the second student from Frazee to run for state office during Galligan’s time as advisor.
“In the big picture, it’s such a great experience for them,” she said. “They campaign at the state convention with a booth and are nominated by someone from another school. They give a speech and participate in an open forum.”
While Galligan pushes her students to go big, there are always the usual duties of student council and she puts just as much effort into organizing those events.
“Obviously, one of the biggest things we do with the student council is Homecoming right away in the fall,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun and I hope the student body and community really enjoy it but what the kids really get out of it is not just the fun experience but the behind the scenes planning and leadership experience.”
She has also balanced the head coaching position for the cross country program and junior high track and field.
“It’s been so much fun to watch these kids make goals and achieve them,” she said. “It’s not all about going to state. It’s about finishing a race and being confident in who you are, achieving that goal and setting the next one. You have to be so mentally tough to run distance.”
Balancing coaching and counseling and both track and cross country allow Galligan to instruct and motivate without interfering with her role as a counselor regarding making tough team decisions in other sports.
“Times don’t lie,” she said. “I’ve always been really mindful of that. It doesn’t matter who the student is, all students are going to struggle with something at some time. If I can be that caring adult, that’s my first priority always. I just never wanted a coaching decision to impact a relationship with a student.”
Galligan’s efforts have been noticed by her peers and that’s shown by being awarded Advisor of the Year multiple times.
“I was kind of surprised this year,” she said. “I was super honored and felt really grateful to be recognized for that. The last couple years, hosting our Division meetings, our council has put a lot of work into that. I was so proud to get the ball rolling with Division meetings again post-COVID. That was really huge. There are some other areas of the state that aren’t as involved as the state level and that was really important to our kids that we continue to have a presence and continue to stay connected to leaders from our neighboring communities to the state. I was surprised and grateful because it does mean a lot.”
Galligan will be taking her skills outside of the district after announcing her departure on Facebook last week. Her counselor position was recently eliminated due to budget cuts. While she did not want to speak about that decision for this story, she did comment on how crucial it is for students to have access to counselors and how difficult it can be when the student to advisor ratio is extreme.
“The biggest thing is availability,” she said. “When you have enough school counselors, you are able to be more proactive versus reactive. When you’re overwhelmed and there is always someone in need you can’t get in the classroom as much to talk to kids. Not only are we the first line of defense. People are always surprised to hear it’s a rare day when there isn’t somebody in my office crying. Kids struggle with things and whether it’s small or big they just need a caring adult.”