School counselors make a difference in students' lives

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Pictured are Cassville's school counselors. Front row, from left: Michelle Johnson, high school counselor; and Kristie Preddy, primary counselor. Second row: Shelley Sparkman, intermediate counselor; Jordi Miller, high school counselor; and Amy Cole, middle school counselor. Contributed photo

National School Counseling Week celebrated at local districts

National School Counseling Week, celebrated in the first week of February, focuses attention on the contributions of school counselors across the U.S., and the effects they have on students' lives.

Counselors not only provide guidance and specialized testing, they help students achieve success, select and prepare for their future careers.

Exeter's school counselors, Sharyn Crouch, left, 7-12 middle/high school counselor, A+ coordinator and district testing coordinator; and Sarah Buntin, right, primary counselor for Pre-K through sixth grades and special education coordinator, assist a student on the computer. Contributed photo

"I decided to become a counselor while I was an English teacher at Purdy," said Sharyn Crouch, 7-12 counselor, A+ coordinator and district testing coordinator for Exeter schools. "I observed the counselor position change five different times in eight years. The main reason for this turnover was that the counselors lived in the Springfield area and had to travel great distances. The counselor would move on when they found a position closer to home. It seemed like every year the kids had to adjust to a new counselor.

"The students needed stability, especially during their high school years. I felt that I could help give them that stability, so I went back to school. I am currently in my fifth year as a counselor at Exeter middle and high schools.

Crouch said from her perspective, compassion, empathy, and a listening ear make a good counselor.

"I like kids, especially teenagers, so I am willing to help them with whatever problem they encounter," she said. "I'm old enough to have a lot of life experiences to use as examples. I enjoy being a counselor."

Jordi Miller, counselor at Cassville High School, thought about the career while still in high school.

"I have always been interested in the mental health field, and I knew I wanted to work with young people," Miller said. "I really enjoy my job and have a lot of fun working with this age group. I think I best help kids when they need someone to listen to them.

"I feel like I provide a safe place for them to come and work through whatever feelings they are having at the moment. I have been a counselor for seven years. I was a middle school counselor at Seymour Middle School for five years before coming to Cassville."

Miller believes a good counselor is someone who has empathy for others, is able to listen with an open mind and has the ability to be authentic. Knowledge of diversity and multiculturalism are also important qualities, she said.

Due to enrollment of more than 550 students, the high school has two counselors.

"I've been very blessed to work with the other counselor, Michelle Johnson," Miller said. "She goes out of her way to make connections with our students, cares deeply about their well being, and I feel that our personalities complement each other well."

Before becoming a counselor, Johnson was a communication arts teacher at the school. She is now in her seventh year at the school and her second as counselor. She feels that a good counselor listens more than speaks, is empathetic, avoids casting judgment, is multicultural and competent.

"When the opportunity to transition to the counselor's office was presented, I knew I was interested," Johnson said. "My favorite part of my job as a teacher was building positive relationships with students. As a high school counselor, I am able to fulfill that role every day, and I throughly enjoy it.

"I see my role as a high school counselor as one of making connections with students. When I walk the halls of the high school, I make it my goal to address students by name. I believe it is important that they feel valued, and that they feel that someone notices their presence in our building. I also believe in being honest, genuine and authentic with students. I acknowledge that I don't have all the answers, but I am always willing to listen and point them in the direction that can enhance their well-being."

Miller works with freshmen and juniors, and Johnson works with sophomores and seniors.

"I could not ask for a better colleague," Johnson said. "Jordi Miller is a wonderful mentor, and the most open and nonjudgmental human being I've ever had the pleasure of knowing."

Exeter Counselor Sarah Buntin is the primary counselor for students Pre-K through sixth grade, and special education coordinator.

When Buntin thinks about what makes a good counselor, she recalls a favorite Bible verse.

"2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others," Buntin said. "This is the calling God has placed on my life to help children the way I have been helped. The school counselor is the first line of defense for students and parents who need some support and comfort. I wanted to be a school counselor so I would get a chance to help others who might not have any other resources for help.

"I think the way I help best is by caring and being there for them [students], which means I listen, I help, I give hugs, I let them cry, I problem-solve to help them be successful, I give guidance and I support them."

Buntin has worked for the Exeter school district for 11 years as special education and Title I coordinator, and has served as counselor for two years.

According to feedback students have shared with Buntin, a good counselor is someone who is open, friendly, cares about them, listens and is like a friend who guides but does not judge.

"I believe that a good counselor is someone who collaborates with parents, teachers and administration to help the student succeed in all areas of life," she said.

Buntin and Crouch work together on district testing and various school events.

"It is a good partnership," Crouch said.

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