Alana Peterson teaches middle school students how to be successful


Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School students received early college and career advice from former student Alana Peterson on June 13.

“I’m trying to open the students’ perspectives,” Peterson said. “It’s not until the students see a tangible representation of what could be considered success in front of them, with the ability for them to interact, that their mindset begins to open up.”

Peterson graduated from the middle school in 2011 and went on to attend Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, where she graduated in 2015. She attended Hunter College and earned a sociology degree in 2021, having taken some extra time to complete it due to the pandemic.

Peterson is now an operating room scheduler at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

Peterson shared the story of her college and career journey with the seventh-grade students in Law, Ethics, and Civics classes, and gave them some advice as they think about their own futures.

“One of the first things I want to express to you is to lead, not follow,” she told the class. “Don’t be afraid to stand out for positive reasons.”

Volunteering has been a big part of Peterson’s life, and she told students to find ways to get involved at their local community centers, churches, hospitals, and anywhere else they can. “People respect when you give your time for free,” she said, “and it’s the start to building your own resume.”

She touched on difficult topics, such as how to manage the loss of a loved one, and encouraged the students to work through their biggest fears, which included being afraid of not making something of themselves and disappointing their families.

She joked with the students, finding common ground in favorite foods, basketball players, and current and former teachers. In turn, the students opened up about their passions and their hopes for future careers, from fashion and art to the medical field and the military.

Students appeared to be thoroughly engaged in Peterson’s presentation, answering her questions and even asking some of their own, like how to apply her advice to their own lives.

“It’s very empowering, because it’s hard going to this school sometimes, and knowing somebody made it out of here successfully makes me feel better, and like I can do more,” seventh-grader Kayli Watson said of hearing Peterson’s story.

Peterson is one of many guest speakers Joseph Merolle, the school counselor, has brought in who fit the theme of career education. Merolle works to connect “the world of school and the working world,” he said, in students’ lives, helping them prepare for making a living — and making the world a better place.

“My role here is to try to get each student to realize that the reason why we’re working so hard here is so we can move the learning towards a career,” he added.

Speakers typically attend eighth-grade classes, but Dorian Segure welcomed Peterson into the seventh-grade Law, Ethics, and Civics classes.

“I think what she is offering is essential to the development of every young man and young woman at this middle school,” Segure said.

Peterson also reconnected with some of the teachers who made a lasting impact on her. One of them was her former math teacher, Warren Knecht, who was happy to hear about her success and the wisdom she was able to share with students.

“It’s very rewarding as a teacher,” Knecht said. “A person like Alana, who’s a regular face, really means a lot to the kids.”