Crystal Laguna remember the feeling of being told, “You can’t.”

She was 20 at the time, enrolled in an honors program at her local community college and hoping to apply for a transfer to Stanford University. Counselors — the very people who were supposed to offer support — didn’t believe she could do it.

“I had more than one counselor tell me not to aim so high, that college’s not for everybody,” Laguna says. “I don’t think any counselor should say that, or say that someone’s not fit for a certain school.”

Feeling discouraged, Laguna decided  against applying and remained at the local college for two years.

Six years later, as Palo Alto High School’s new outreach specialist, Laguna aims to ensure that every Paly student feels comfortable and capable of accomplishing their goals.

Laguna says she will be helping students navigate the high school system, acting as both a liason between Paly and community organizations and an extra support for the more underrepresented part of the student body. Daily activities include calling students whom teachers refer her to, believing they will benefit from more information about high school and college.

“We have a segment of our population that doesn’t use all the resources that are there for them,” Assistant Principal Kathie Laurence says. “She [Laguna] goes after those students who don’t access it and tells them, ‘Yes you can do this, yes you can graduate.’ The door of opportunity is open, but we still need everyone to go through.”

Laguna hopes to give students an idea of what resources they have, other than guidance and College and Career Center services.

“Apart from guidance and ACS (Academic Counseling Services), I want to bring even more resources from the community outside of the campus,” she says.

Laguna first realized she wanted to be a counselor when she experienced the downside of a lack of support in community college. After her two years at community college, Laguna took a couple of years off to work and save up money before completing her undergraduate education.

But the transition between community college and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was difficult.

“I definitely questioned if I was going to go back [to school] or not,” Laguna says. “As soon as you take that break, it makes it really hard to go back because you’re already in the working field and have responsibilities.”

Valuing her education, however, Laguna applied to UCLA and recently completed her undergraduate education, majoring in Chicano studies with a minor in education. Now she is pursuing a masters degree in counseling at San Jose State University.

As the first person in her family to attend college, Laguna had difficulty finding the right resources and taking advantage of them. Her experience drives her to be a constantly available resource to students, especially those who are struggling to graduate or reach their full potential. And although she focuses on academic not emotional counseling, Laguna says that anyone can email her to arrange an appointment or stop by her office in the library for advice.

“Students have come up and asked simple questions about college or programs I know of, or even homework help,” she says.

Laguna added that she will try to give such students as much information and encouragement as possible.

“Every student does their best and underrepresented students also have the ability and opportunity to do well. I’m here to give that extra push.”

[Charu Srivastava] Crystal Laguna smiles as she pauses outside the Student Center, which she opens at 7:30 a.m. every morning.

The search for an outreach specialist originated at the end of last year with Principal Phil Winston, according to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson.

“Not every student is having success here, so having an outreach person brings them more help,” Berkson says. “Before a kid finds her, it’s more, she finds a certain audience we’re targeting.”

Since arriving at Paly, Laguna has received a warm welcome.

“I love Paly and completely love the faculty,” she says. “The administration has been so supportive and friendly. Anything I need is completely there for me.”

Laguna, who has also been opening up the Student Center daily at 7:30 a.m. to offer students a place to study or just talk with her, wants to let Paly know that she is an available resource. She is ready to encourage and push students forward.

“They [the students] need to know that the sky’s the limit. If you don’t try, you’ll never find out.”