Wheatley’s New Director of Guidance: Janna Varela

By Ansh Jhaveri and Emily Yagoda 

Ms. Varela is the new Director of Guidance, currently working with all three buildings and communicating with administrators, students, and families.

Although Ms. Varela has been a Guidance Counselor since 2005, she didn’t always know that it would end up as her career.

She started working with students at Stony Brook University, helping them select classes and majors, and working with students getting their MBAs. She then worked at Xaverian High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Brooklyn, as an assistant to the Principals and the administration team. After that, she was a Career Counselor at St. John’s University for two years. Then, she spent six years in Queens as a Guidance Counselor and as Director of College Counseling. She also worked for a year in Florida as a High School Counselor for students with disabilities. She realized that she needed a family, not a workplace. That is why she came to Wheatley.

Although it seems like she knew what she wanted to do from the get-go, that wasn’t the case. Ms. Varela wanted to take after her father and be a lawyer but was pushed away from law because she listened to the people telling her she should go down another path. Learning from this, she says, “It’s really important to think about what works for you, and not listening to friends, teachers, and parents because there is a lot of advice to be given, and at the end of the day, you are the one waking up to do your job every day.” Her mother is a teacher, and she feels that counseling is a nice combination. Counseling gives her the unique opportunity of advocating like a lawyer and teaching like her mother. Growing up, she saw what they did and took little bits and pieces that helped her develop her passion.

Although most of her jobs have been in the education and administration fields, Ms. Varela did work for Pringles in their advertising department for a brief time. She loved the glamorous job, but felt that something was missing. She wanted to help someone and give back to people, and realized that sometimes what you are most talented at, and what you like to do, don’t always relate. In college, she specialized in theater, business, history, and media, and is currently finishing up her Certificate in School Building Leadership. She says that sometimes it is best to “Find out what your hobbies are, find out what your talents are, and see how you can try and combine everything.” She spent the next four months searching for a job that would give her the same feeling as when she helped someone graduate on time, which led her to become a counselor. This gives her the opportunity to express her creativity and do what she’s “supposed to be doing,” while still being able to pursue all her hobbies on the side.

One thing that you may be surprised to learn about Ms. Varela is that she recently went to Comic-Con with her father, dressed as Batman, because the original movie is one of her favorite movies of all time. She also likes The Princess Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Sandlot. Back when she was in school, she was the Class President for two years, commissioner, director, and actor in the schools plays, on the tennis and cheerleading teams, and voted Most School Spirited. Now, she enjoys going to concerts with her husband, and they like seeing anything from top 40 hits, to country, to alternative rock.

To many, the idea of visiting your in-laws can be a gut wrenching experience. That is not how Ms. Varela sees it. She truly enjoys spending time with her in-laws and just playing a simple board game, which is usually Scrabble. Her love for words has earned her the nickname, “The Thesaurus,” and has let her discover how much she loves books. Although she is an advocate for educating with the use of technology, she is a strong believer in books. In fact, she is so engrossed in reading that she lives by the quote, “the more you read, the more you learn.”

To Ms. Varela, success is opening people up to opportunities that they had not previously discovered. When it comes to college, she doesn’t want students to just look at the schools they have already heard of, but rather look at some of the ones they haven’t heard of yet and be open to learning about new opportunities. She is a strong believer in the idea, “College is a match to be made not a prize to be won.” At Wheatley, she sees the energy and drive in students and families and that inspires her to work harder to help them as best as possible.

Although Wheatley is a new experience for Ms. Varela, she believes that she is right where she belongs. Six years ago, Ms. Varela met Mr. Greg Wasserman at a conference. When Mr. Wasserman discussed Wheatley and the people and community that it encompassed, Ms. Varela knew that Wheatley was a place where she would love to work. This past summer, when she was hired to lead the district Guidance Department, it was like a dream come true. She had “never been more warmly welcomed,” and was very surprised at how “overwhelmingly supportive” everybody was. Her experience at Wheatley has been “fantastic” and is more than anything she could have ever hoped for.

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