Gatos helping high school seniors face the future

MaryAnne Gatos knows that high school seniors have a lot to think about. She wants to help them figure out their next steps.

Gatos founded Return on Investment in 2017. She wants students to consider which course of action — college, a job or perhaps a gap year — will provide them with the greatest return on their investment.

Gatos spent 10 years at Champlain Valley High managing the Grad Challenge. That program required seniors to spend 45 hours doing research on a local project with a community mentor. At the completion of the project, they would present their results to a community panel. She founded Return on Investment so she could build upon that work.

Courtesy photo MaryAnne Gatos enjoys helping high school seniors find their way in the world.
Courtesy photo MaryAnne Gatos enjoys helping high school seniors find their way in the world.

Gatos said many students tend to gravitate toward colleges that have prestigious reputations, but those might not be the best fit. She helps students figure out what they care about, what they want to learn and which institutions offer the best chance for them to achieve that. She also helps with the application process.

For some students, the best fit is to take a year off and Gatos strongly believes in the value of a gap year.

“Research shows that students who take a gap year are more mature and more likely to know what they want,” she said. “They change majors less, apply for internships on their own, ask their professors more questions and advocate for themselves.”

Gatos noted that a gap year is actually 15 months and can include work, courses, down time, and often travel and adventure. She wishes more people took advantage of that option.

Gatos is a firm believer in the benefits of travel. After college, she visited Central America. Following a stint in the working world, she joined the Peace Corps and lived in Nepal for almost three years. Gatos taught math and science in a village that lacked electricity and running water. Nobody else spoke English, and the village was an eight-hour walk from the main road.

In addition to teaching, Gatos facilitated the construction of a school building.

“It was a monumental experience,” she said, adding that she continues to have close friends from her Peace Corps days.

Four years ago, she returned to the village which now has running water and electricity. Villagers have cellphones and the current Peace Corps volunteer has a laptop, things which she could not have imagined during her time there 35 years ago. There was a photo on the school wall of the teachers from the time of her service; she was easy to recognize since she was the only woman.

Gatos has been to 14 countries and wants to visit more, but she is happy to be making her home in Charlotte. She and her husband were living in Boston, when they came to Charlotte to visit his sister for a weekend.

The couple made an offer on a house that Monday. Gatos and her husband quit their jobs days later so they could move here.

Gatos was co-chair of a group which built the first playground at Charlotte Central School in the 1990s. She was also co-chair of the building committee for the senior center and worked on the committee to start a pottery school in Burlington. She is an active member of the Polar Pickleball community.

Back in 2008, Gatos took a comedy class with former Charlotte resident, Josie Leavitt. Although initially hesitant to perform at the end of the class, Gatos found that she enjoyed the experience and became one of the Vermont Comedy Divas.

“I did about a dozen shows, and it was really fun,” she said, but two kids and a full-time job led her to step away from the microphone.

Gatos enjoys watching the developmental changes and maturing that takes place between the ages of 16 and 26.

“I love the things young people do,” she said. “I like giving them the opportunity to find out that their quirkiness is admirable and to help them find meaningful work.”

Gatos is not invested in any particular college and is careful not to use words like dream school, accepted, denied or rejected.

“I really enjoy helping students take the tension out of an anxiety-ridden process,” she said. “I really enjoy helping people find direction.”