February 2018

National Celebration of School Counseling

By Katy O'Grady

Michelle Obama’s speech honors Kirsten Perry, 2018 School Counselor of the Year.

“Every day, you all have the power to shape and mold these kids; to remind them that they belong; that no matter how much money they have or where their family comes from, this is their country, too. You have the power to show them that no matter their race, or faith or walk of life, they are valued for who they are…and no matter how alone or afraid they might feel, they are seen, and they are loved. This is what our school counselors do every single day. And our national School Counselor of the Year, Ms. Perry, is a perfect example.”

The words and presence of former First Lady Michelle Obama capped the build-up to the introduction of Kirsten Perry, 2018 School Counselor of the Year, at a school-counselor-and-star-studded event on Feb. 2 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The powerful ceremony celebrated not only outstanding school counselors but the profession itself. Watch a recording of the ceremony.

Perry has been a school counselor for six years and has been at Lawndale Community School in Chicago since 2015. Although she is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University, she struggled early in life with substance abuse and single parenthood and came to school counseling only after turning 30. “I chose school counseling specifically because I wanted to be able to help youth like myself stay on-track from a young age. I felt I could identify with them and might be able to help,” Perry said.

Lawndale principal Willard Willette says Perry was the missing link that helped lift Lawndale, a pre-K–8 school, out of academic distress. At the ceremony, two of Perry’s students described how she has changed their school and their lives. DaMarcus Thompson appreciates Perry’s founding of the student council: “I’m now a big part of Lawndale school activities. Ms. Perry knows that these activities mean something to our students and will have a positive impact on our future. Ms. Perry’s attitude has had an effect on the entire school. Now we have groups coming in to help students with activities and extra homework.”

Kyla Evans, a former student of Perry’s who is now in ninth grade, thrived with Perry’s support and focus on restorative justice and still visits Perry when she needs a boost. “Ms. Perry helped me learn to control my anger… School became more fun. I used to not care if I missed, but she made me want to come to school,” she said.

Flanked by the five finalists for the 2018 honor and the state school counselors of the year, Perry spoke passionately of the crucial work still needed in schools. “We must find a way to keep going or nothing will change. We must keep pushing to eliminate barriers so all of our nation’s youth, regardless of their background or circumstance, have opportunities to succeed in life. We must continue to work together and truly invest in our education systems. Our children and youth depend on it.”

The 2018 School Counselor of the Year finalists are: With support from the Reach Higher foundation, celebrities from across the spectrum participated in the event, sharing their stories of school counselors’ impact on their lives. They included master of ceremonies Ted Allen, host of “Chopped” on the Food Network; celebrity chefs Carla Hall and Amanda Freitag; television personality and author La La Anthony; actress Connie Britton; and former secretary of education John King.

The legislators serving as co-chairs of the 2018 School Counselor of the Year program prove that both parties can agree on the value of school counseling. They are Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.).

The 2018 state school counselors of the year are:
  • Alabama: Mindi Marlena Amberson, Wellborn Elementary School in Anniston, Ala.
  • Alaska: Samantha McMorrow, Badger Road Elementary School in North Pole, Alaska
  • Arizona: Tracy McFarlin-Pressley, Lake Havasu High School in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
  • Arkansas: Donna Norsworthy, Farmington Career Academies in Farmington, Ark.
  • California: Kathy Pelzer, Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif.
  • Connecticut: Jesse Shalett, John Read Middle School in Redding, Conn.
  • District of Columbia: Alicia Oglesby, Emerson Preparatory School in Washington, DC
  • Florida: Dr. Melissa Rose Garcia, Seminole Ridge Community High School in Loxahatchee, Fla.
  • Georgia: Alexandra Huguelet, Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta, Ga.
  • Hawaii: Bianca Yanuaria, Keolu Elementary School in Kailua, Hawaii
  • Idaho: Cassandrali Martines, Garwood Elementary School in Rathdrum, Idaho
  • Indiana: Bridget Helms, Oak Hill Elementary School in Lowell, Ind.
  • Iowa: Suzanne Schrader, Clinton High School in Clinton, Iowa
  • Kansas: Kristi Dixon, Blue Valley Southwest High School in Overland Park, Kan.
  • Louisiana: Tara Washington, Woodlawn Middle School in Baton Rouge, La.
  • Maine: Angela Rose-Finadaca Avery Biddeford Middle School in Biddeford, Maine
  • Maryland: Jill Raisch Jahries, Ridgely Middle School in Lutherville, Md.
  • Michigan: Debra Miller, Lakeview Middle School in Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Minnesota: Christina Cox, Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Minn.
  • Montana: Erica Zins, Sentinel High School in Missoula, Mont.
  • Nebraska: Jacqueline Johnson, Northwest High Magnet School in Omaha, Neb.
  • New Hampshire: Trisha Griswold, Bath Village School, Piermont Village School, Warren Village School, French Pond School in North Haverhill, N.H.
  • New Jersey: Nicole Keane, Walnut Ridge Primary School in Vernon, N.J.
  • New York: Jenny Anne Konop, Northport High School in Bronx, N.Y.
  • North Carolina: Jenna Warren, Hilburn Academy in Raleigh, N.C.
  • North Dakota: Chasity Odden-Heide, West Fargo High School in West Fargo, N.D.
  • Ohio: Lynne Morrison, Crestwood Middle School in Mantua, Ohio
  • Oklahoma: Misty Bible, Broken Bow High School in Broken Bow, Okla.
  • Oregon: Holly Vaughn-Edmonds, Franklin High School in Portland, Ore.
  • Pennsylvania: Tracey Merlino, Belle Valley Elementary School in Erie, Pa.
  • Rhode Island: Cynthia Lancaster, Joseph L. McCourt Middle School in Cumberland, R.I.
  • South Carolina: Michelle Privette, Lexington Elementary School in Lexington, S.C.
  • South Dakota: Kim Goebel, Gettysburg School District K-12 in Gettysburg, S.D.
  • Tennessee: Lauren Baker, Collierville Elementary School in Collierville, Tenn.
  • Utah: Monique Hadley, Timpview High School in Provo, Utah
  • Virginia: Jenny Hubler, L. Douglas Wilder Middle School in Henrico, Va.
  • Washington: Angela Gardea, Garrison Middle School in Walla Walla, Wash.
  • West Virginia: Richard Tench, St. Albans High School in St Albans, W.V.
  • Wyoming: Scharen Collingwood, Greybull Middle School in Greybull, Wyo.
Katy O’Grady is editor of ASCA’s state newsletters and assistant editor of Professional School Counseling. Contact her at katy@docreative.com