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Bernard Starks is a brand-new counselor at Forest Park Middle School, but he’s not new to the area or the profession. Not only is he a Forest Park resident, but for the last three years he’s worked with Proviso East High School students through the West 40 Dream Program as a student advocate.

“I worked with students who were close to getting expelled,” said Starks. The students were credit deficient or had disciplinary issues, and Starks’ role was to be a liaison between the student’s family and the school to create a plan for success.

Starks spoke about a female student he worked with who frequently got in fights and was struggling in school. Through the Dream Program, he said, she was able to focus. Now, she’s in college.

It’s experiences like those that Starks finds most gratifying about working with students.

He’s switching his focus to middle school students at D91, where his goal is to help students with social or academic needs now, but also for the future.

“My goal really is to help them be successful not just in middle school, and not just in high school or college, but beyond. I want to help build the foundation, so they can be successful for life,” Starks said.

Starting the year remotely is a bit of a challenge, said Starks, because it’s obviously more difficult to get to know the students if you’re not in the same physical space.

“My big thing is building relationships one on one, and building relationships is easier in person. I’ve been so used to that for so long. Now, being in a new district, it’s definitely been challenging, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Starks said he’s figuring out ways to connect with the students, whether it’s on one-on-one Zoom calls or forming student groups, both things he’s considering doing.

“I still want to get to know the students just like if we were in a building together, and I still want to build relationships, especially because there’s just so much going on right now, and students need people to talk to,” said Starks.

Starks said outside of education and social work, he enjoys photography. He does CrossFit and runs.

“So you may see me running through town,” he said. He added: “I really love this community.”