Meet the Student Family Advocates

West has multiple staff members devoted to helping students with issues beyond academics. The Student Family Advocates, Ryan Lee and Christine Dougan, are dedicated to helping students overcome barriers in their lives.
Ryan Lee and Christine Dougan, the two Student Family Advocates at West High.
Ryan Lee and Christine Dougan, the two Student Family Advocates at West High.
Evelyn Kraber
What is an SFA?
What is an SFA?

There are multiple staff members at West responsible for helping students with issues beyond academics, including counselors, SFAs and the staff of NESTT and SPACE. Since there are multiple groups to come for different issues, it can be difficult to discern the difference between each role. Counselors typically deal with academics but also can just be a person to talk to. SPACE allows you to stay for a whole period to debrief and reach out for academic help, and NEST is a place you can only be for a short amount of time to take a minute to breathe. So when it comes to the SFAs, who are they and what do they do?

There are two SFAs at West, Christine Dougan and Ryan Lee. Their jobs are to help students deal with barriers in their private lives so they can be involved when it comes to their education. Dougan describes part of her job as navigating “any barrier or challenge a student or family is facing. So it looks really different based off of the needs the situation, the individual student or their family situation.” 

The barriers look different for everyone, they could be financial or related to a student’s mental health for example.

When asked about the difference between SFAs and counselors Dougan said, “I work very closely with our counselors. So there is oftentimes a lot of overlap…I would say if it’s like grade school-specific, mostly that’s going to be your counselor. If it’s like outside resources, oftentimes they’ll work with me. And I’ll work together with our school counselor.”

There are multiple ways to schedule a meeting with the SFAs. They take drop-ins if they aren’t busy, but if you want to schedule an appointment ahead of time reach out by email or through the Talking Points app.

Lees office.
Ryan Lee

While this is only Lee’s second year at West, he’s been a part of the district in one way or another for over a decade. He was first a para at City High, then ran the Student Advisory Center at Northwest Junior High and later was a behavior interventionist at the school. He worked at Northwest for four and a half years. 

Lee’s work at Northwest led him to the position he has today. He wanted to follow the kids he had gotten to know and continue with them throughout their journey. There was an SFA at Northwest, but he didn’t know much about the position. After doing some research it looked like a good fit. 

When he was a behavior interventionist, students at Northwest would often assume they were in trouble if they saw him. Despite his previous reputation, he’s committed to being available and approachable when students need him.

I know high school is tough. This time of life is very hard so I like to be here and be available.

— Ryan Lee

Lee grew up in San Diego and came to the University of Iowa for college where he majored in Health and Sports Studies. After college, he went back to San Diego. He worked at the Arc, a large service provider whose mission is “supporting and empowering children and adults with disabilities to achieve their goals and reach their maximum potential.” After being back in San Diego for a few years, he returned to Iowa. 

Lee always knew that he enjoyed working with people and helping them. In high school, he was in multiple clubs, including journalism and photography, along with participating in sports. He always wanted to be in the education field, and the more classes in college he took, the more he leaned towards helping people, which led him to where he is today.

Outside of work Lee coaches West’s basketball team and spends time with his wife and two sons.  

Lee’s office. (Evelyn Kraber)
Dougans office.
Christine Dougan

This is Dougan’s third year working at West. Before coming to Iowa City, Dougan has lived all around the country, from California, to Indiana, to Washington and ultimately to Iowa.

She was very involved in her high school, and did track, student government and French club, and also was very involved in the community. After she graduated, she majored in French and Conflict studies at DePaul University in rural Indiana.

Before becoming a SFA she taught at multiple schools with a large population of underrepresented students. “I joined something called Teach for America in ’08. So I was a ninth-grade English teacher at a public high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. So again, a Title One high school which is a federal designation for schools that are predominantly low-income students, underrepresented students of color.” Later, she applied for a grant to teach at a similar school outside of Paris.

Even though the school she taught at in France was making huge education reform bound, there was a history of teacher turnover and violence in the community. “I just felt really strongly [about] that I was like, I need to go back to the States, and I need to work in education reform.” 

So she decided to move back to Washington DC and started to focus on the social-emotional part of education. “I felt as a teacher really restricted by the idea that like my job was only to [teach] and my students were showing up wonderful and special every day in my class, but once my class was done, they had all this other stuff going on. And I wanted to help all that, but I couldn’t.” 

I realized that the education can’t happen if these other basic needs aren’t being met.

— Christine Dougan

Dougan went to graduate school in Maryland and focused on how systems and structures prevent some students from achieving. She noticed the students being pushed out were often members of marginalized communities. Now her work allows her to help the students being pushed out to achieve their goals.

Something Dougan loves about her job is its unpredictability, something Lee mentioned as well. “It looks so different, which is one of the things I personally love about the job. I never know what needs are going to walk through the door or like what I’m going to have to do, which really helps me kind of stay on my toes.”

It can be very wary, and it’s not for everyone, but I love it.

— Christine Dougan

When she isn’t working, Dougan spends a lot of her time with her husband, 16-month-old Oscar and dog Charbono.


Dougan’s office. (Evelyn Kraber)
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