In August of 2019, Director of College Counseling Elsa von Heydenreich announced that she would be retiring at the end of the school year to spend “more time with my family, to travel more extensively and broadly, to pursue my interests, or simply to choose to drop all to be with those I hold most dear.” Heydenreich has over 30 years of experience in college counseling and has worked at Sequoyah since the high school began in 2016.
Rosanna Llorens, who is coming from her most recent position as Associate Dean of College Counseling at Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, is set to be the new counselor. Born in Portland, Oregon, Llorens moved to Los Angeles nearly two decades ago and now has a seven-year-old daughter Ruby, who is in the first grade at Crossroads. She attended the University of Kansas and ended up falling in love with basketball while a student there. She also received three masters degrees from Loyola Marymount University.
Aside from her position as a college counselor at Crossroads, Llorens has taught as an LAUSD English teacher and at the Ambassador School of Global Leadership in Koreatown and Manual Arts High School.
Living in Santa Monica, she loves being outside and going barefoot, and is “not too scared of the commute” to Pasadena; she has already become accustomed to it over the past few weeks as she made the drive to “catch the vibe.”
Llorens described college counseling as a “cyclical process” that changes every year and “doesn’t get boring.” She attributed her ability to “go deep and wide in my communities” to staying at a school for a long time (she has worked at Crossroads for the past seven years), which “makes the process change every year.”
The Barefoot Times recently interviewed Llorens to learn about her history as a college counselor and what brings her to Sequoyah.
The Barefoot Times: You’ll be coming in with a junior class that will only know you for a year. How do you plan on counseling students you will have only just met?
Rosanna Llorens: It’s a special situation I’ve been in before and I feel infinitely more prepared this time. When I came to Crossroads, there was turnover with all three people in the counseling office. So we all came in and nobody had any experience, nobody knew any of the families, and it was rough. So that’s kind of similar in that you have Elsa leaving and a new person coming in. But, I’m getting to connect with you guys much earlier in the year—I’m definitely planning to have a working relationship with Elsa for a while beforehand.
The part of me that is developed now that wasn’t developed seven years ago when I did this was that I [now] really know what kind of questions to ask pretty [much] immediately, and I know what I’m looking for to get the job done. When I did this before, it was my first time being a college counselor, and so it was all very unknown.
I actually find that the fall is full of magic with the college process, so no matter how much I think I know an 11th grader, nothing really pops until October [of their senior year]. So there’s plenty of time to get to know kids coming in in the summertime as a counselor.
BT: Are there any memorable or interesting stories of students you’ve helped get into college?
RL: When I was in LAUSD, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just an English teacher helping out [with college admissions]. The last year that I was at Manual Arts [High School], I’d had a bunch of students I met when I was their long term eighth grade English sub and I was with them all the way through high school. Some of them were in my homeroom, I was their 10th grade English teacher, I was their 12th grade English teacher, so the connections were deep. Most of those kids are 28, 27 turning 28 now, [but] a lot of them, I’m still very much in touch with. I had two that year that I actually took to college: one went to [The] Evergreen State [College] up in Washington, and one went to Emerson.
The kid that went to Emerson, both of his parents were deceased and the counselor that had been looking after him left [but] came to me his junior year and said, “can you make it happen for this kid?” I was like, okay—you know, he doesn’t have anybody, but he just wouldn’t talk. He’s still one of the most quiet people I know.
I didn’t know much about college admissions—[all] I knew how [to do was] walk kids through filling out the application. He wanted to go to Boston so we applied to, like, half the schools in Boston, and he didn’t get in anywhere except Emerson. [At the time,] I didn’t understand how financial aid packages worked or anything [so] I just called the school and I said, “he doesn’t have anywhere else to go, we’re coming,” and the school ended up making it happen. We did a GoFundMe back when it was brand new and came up with the $9,000 gap, [and] the school came up with the rest.
To this day, I’m still friends with members of the [admissions] team at Emerson and they’ve said that he was their first first-generation high financial need student and the way they wrapped themselves around him for his four years became their model for what they try to do now. That is just always exciting because that was a complete shot in the dark and it worked out, having long time effects.
The one who went to Evergreen came to me in May of his senior year and asked, “is it too late for me to apply to college?” and we scrambled but figured Evergreen out. I’m from Portland, and from my mom’s doorstep to Evergreen State is an hour and 51 minutes. We pulled it all together and I was like, listen: “We’ll fly to my mom’s, I’ll drop you off. We’ll make it happen.” So he’s really become like family. He spent all of his breaks with my mom and me, and my daughter calls him her uncle.
So now as I go out, I’ve got this full circle thing happening. I had a student my first year at Crossroads; I met her during the summer. I looked at her “numbers” and her profile, and I couldn’t understand why she had just California schools and not more schools that matched her academic profile. She was a very high achieving student. And so when I met her, I asked, “What’s going on? You’re not really reaching much.” She said, “my dad won’t let me leave.” Because of my years working in LAUSD with many first-generation families where they didn’t want their kids to go away, I knew exactly what to say to the dad. It was less than a five minute conversation. I had him convinced to let her go on these fly-ins that she went on that year and she ended up going to and graduating from Brown.
But she has a sister, a little sister who was in seventh grade during her senior year. And I just remember her introducing me to her and saying, “Rosanna’s going to be your college counselor one day.” Because I’ve been there a long time, I had the benefit of doing all kinds of things with her since seventh grade, whether it was just having lunch or getting her started on test prep a little bit earlier—just different things so that she is now in the college process and just killing it.
It’s just super exciting to have worked with a family for all these years, getting the kids out the door to really, really amazing schools. I think back to her being a little seventh grader and just how doe-eyed she looked about the process and [now] she’s a boss!
How much do you know about the Mastery Transcript? What excites you about it?
I can’t say that I know all the details, but what I do know is I’m at a school that right now doesn’t do grades, doesn’t have a GPA, and [doesn’t] have A.P. classes [which is all] very in alignment with the Mastery Transcript. I do think it’s a super exciting way to make assessing students more qualitative on the college side. Hopefully, though, it just starts to make the learning in high school more fun and engaging and takes the focus off achievement. I’m all for it.
Why are you leaving Crossroads and coming to Sequoyah?
I know that there are other schools in LA that I would not be a fit for. For instance, a place that was running A.P. exams is not my jam. So that means there’s a finite amount of places that I would even think about. [Sequoyah’s] always been on my radar, so when the job came open, I thought about it and thought about it, and then just very serendipitously bumped into Elsa and things just started to unfold. It was a gut wrenching decision because I’m so deeply invested in Crossroads as a parent, as an employee (I spent Thanksgiving with my colleagues, many of them this past holiday).
I have a friend, who lives in Pasadena and works at Crossroads, who was my original boss at a job when I first got here [in L.A.] 18 years ago. And when I got this job, he was like: “This school is so amazing. When have you ever been afraid and when have you ever not pursued some exciting opportunity?”
I know that the way education is happening at Sequoyah is more in alignment with who I am at this point in my life and I couldn’t think of any reason not to take the job. So that meant for me, it was time to leap out of my comfort zone into the unknown. I’m super excited.
What are you most excited about, not related to college counseling, at Sequoyah?
When I came to the elementary/middle school campus with my daughter, and when I visited the upper school campus, I knew this is the kind of space I like to be in. I like nature, I like open spaces. I like spaces that lend themselves to imagination and exploration and engagement, and I saw that on both campuses immediately, [both] in terms of the actual physical space but then how students and adults were engaging within those spaces.
I can’t separate that from the college counseling piece, in that Elsa has done a phenomenal job of setting up a really, really impressive college office. And, there’s still so much room for so many different kinds of things in terms of programming and how to meet the needs of kids and families. What I gather being on those physical campuses is that it’s a community where anything feels possible, if it can be determined that there are well-executed ways for something to unfold.
So I’m super excited to bring ideas to a process-oriented community, and actualize them and see them play out with students. That’s kind of what I was getting at with that one student who I worked with, the older sister. I love having little seeds planted and then watching them grow and I feel like Sequoyah is like little buds right now with deep roots.