While already a certified educator with teaching experience, St. Marys native Ashley Prokop has decided to return to school to become a guidance counselor in order to further help students.
"I want to make a difference in education and in the lives of students. I am a teacher because I want to be involved in the lives of students. I am becoming a counselor because I care more about why a student isn't learning what they should than I care that they aren't getting it," Ashley said. "Counseling puts me in the position to help students in all aspects of their lives, rather than just their education."
The alumna of Elk County Catholic High School graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education for English/Communications.
"Rather than taking the traditional route of student teaching, I interviewed for a yearlong co-teaching internship with the Professional Development School (PDS) Program. I was selected and spent my entire senior year co-teaching in a seventh grade classroom at Park Forest Middle School in State College, learning hands-on how to be an effective teacher," Ashley said.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Ashley moved to Leonardtown, Md. and taught eighth grade Reading/Language Arts at Leonardtown Middle School.
"My goal was to inspire students to appreciate reading and writing. I had the freedom to be creative and use technology in my lessons, and I was encouraged to attend all types of professional development that could enhance my teaching," Ashley said.
She is now in the graduate program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she is working to earn a master's degree in school counseling.
"I have a Graduate Assistantship working in the Associate Provost office part-time, and I take classes full-time. I feel that my assistantship is an achievement because I had to interview with the Associate Provost, one of his colleagues and his administrative assistant. My major is also not aligned with working in the office, but I love getting to see a different side of education," Ashley said.
"I recently applied for a bridge that is being offered, so when I graduate, my degree will be in both Elementary and Secondary School Counseling. I hope to be hired in a middle school. I am learning so many theories and models that have the potential to make major improvements in the educational system. I cannot wait to graduate and start making a difference."
Ashley is the daughter of Loretta "Lori" Saleh and the late John Prokop of St. Marys. Her older sister, Jessica Prokop, lives in Pittsburgh and owns an online advertising business. Her younger brother, Mike, is currently attending West Virginia University. Her maternal grandparents are Max and Sally Stanisch and her paternal grandparents are Eleanor and the late Martin Prokop. She has a large extended family with many cousins.
"I have been blessed with a large, close-knit family," Ashley said.
She noted that the closeness extends to the St. Marys community and her own days as a student at local schools.
"I am so grateful for the positive educational experience that I grew up with. I have fond memories from elementary and high school," Ashley said.
Ashley said her experience as a substitute teacher at St. Mary's Catholic Middle School (formerly St. Mary's Parochial School, which she attended) was helpful in furthering her dreams of being a counselor.
"I gained an indescribable amount of respect for my former teachers when I was able to work alongside them while substituting in the Catholic school system. Even when I was a student, Mrs. Anne Kronenwetter and Mrs. Kate Nekuza showed me that your enthusiasm for what you teach will inspire your students," Ashley said. "I also learned the importance of organization, flexibility and expertise from all of the teachers at this school."
She said she most likely would not have taken the path to the career she is pursuing now without the inspiration and support of John Kowach, Elk County Catholic High School headmaster and teacher.
"I have always loved to write, but he taught me to appreciate literature. His passion for teaching was contagious," Ashley said.
She explained that before starting college, she was uncertain about what she wanted to choose for her major, but her former teacher helped her find the right fit.
"I changed my major three times before I started college. My first choice was psychology and my second was communications. In a meeting with Mr. K, I talked to him about my uncertainty, and he suggested education. There couldn't have been a better fit for me," Ashley said.
At IUP, she serves as the co-president of the Counselor Education Student Association, which helps the community of Indiana and assists counseling students in having more of a voice in the counseling program.
When she is not busy working or earning her degree, Ashley is an Independent Demonstrator for Gold Canyon, a line of candles and products for the body and home.
"It's a fun way to earn some extra cash and keep my apartment looking and smelling great," Ashley said.
She noted one of her favorite things about working with the company is that they give back through an organization called the Prayer Child Foundation.
"I am hoping to help local families who have children with physical or emotional struggles by suggesting them for grants from the foundation," Ashley said.
While she really enjoys her schooling, work and hobbies, family top's Ashley's list, which is why she returns frequently to the St. Marys area.
"I visit St. Marys often because my family and friends are there. I enjoy visiting with my grandparents and my Uncle Joe," Ashley said.
"Aside from my family and friends, I often visit my boyfriend's family. He has twin four- year-old nieces, Carmen and Lydia, and we enjoy playing "Just Dance" on the Wii. It's always busy because there are so many people to see.
"I used to work at the St. Marys Elks Club. The members really supported me when I was commuting to school, so I like to stop in and say 'hi.' My favorite thing about St. Marys is that there are so many places that you can enjoy the outdoors. When I'm away, I miss knowing so many people and so many people knowing me. Some people think it's annoying, but I think it's comforting because I've always felt so much support."