‘They keep their door wide open’

Charles Denny at Uintah River High School.

Charles Denny knows the importance of connecting with the next generation both as a hoop dancer, communicating the culture and values of his Ute heritage, and as a tutor mentor, providing educational and career guidance to students at Uintah River High School in Fort Duchesne, Utah.

A few years ago Denny, a Northern Ute of the Whiteriver band and Chippewa Cree of Rockyboy Montana, wanted to do more for his community and decided to go back to school to become a fully-trained school counselor.

“That’s the route I wanted to take,” he says. “I wanted to serve my community and try to be a tool for youth to hopefully see some higher education or some sort of plan throughout life, because I never had that. I want to be that bridge for kids to their future.”

The challenge for Denny, who graduated from Utah Valley University in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, was to find a program that would allow him to stay at home in Fort Duchesne and continue his work at the high school while earning his degree. He found what he needed at the University of Utah.

The Master in School Counseling Program, within the Department of Educational Psychology, is a two-year program with an in-person cohort of 12 students at the U’s Salt Lake City campus, and a remote cohort of six students based in St. George, Utah. Classes are in the evenings during the school year, allowing students to continue working while they earn their degree. Denny joined the program as part of the St. George cohort, so he was already experienced with online learning before the COVID-19 pandemic sent all U students to virtual classrooms.

“I’m not alone on this journey,” he says. “That’s how everyone’s completing the course work. And the group work now is via Zoom. So it’s working out kind of crazy because that’s the way my education was already going.”

Denny says that his instructors have been warm and understanding.

“The counseling program definitely opened their arms to me, and was really welcoming to me and provided the supports that I need to be successful in my master’s program,” he says. “They even set me up with a mentor as well to make sure things are okay and my workload is balanced. If I need any help, they have been pointing me in the right direction.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Charles Denny

Charles Denny

Denny says his experiences in the school counseling program have taught him how to help a student find his or her own path. “I’m finding out that I have to be completely supportive for every student. If they want to go to tech school, if they want to go to university, if they’re trying to get a job, I got to be that person to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to help you get to this goal,’ instead of trying to have it be my goal.”

He’s also learning how to reach the students who are not coming to him and asking for help.

“The course work at the School of Education has definitely opened my eyes to finding different tactics and ways of reaching these kids,” Denny says. “I’m a support so that all the students get treated equally and get the services that they do need all the way from K through 12.”

He’s found that same feeling of support, inclusion and welcoming at the U.

“If you let your teachers, instructors, and everybody know about your story and your background, they’re definitely there to support you,” he says. They keep their door wide open so that you can communicate with them. And it’s definitely helped a native person like me coming from a different background to realize that, hey, these people are here to help me.  They want to see me succeed. I feel very confident that I’m really going to be successful in this program.”

Learn more about the School Counseling program here.