Some days, Melissa Keller said, she just wants to cry. There are some things high school kids just shouldn’t have to go through.
Keller is a counselor at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, and she was honored, along with James Paterson from Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring and Victoria Leahy-Jones of North Chevy Chase Elementary School, as a Montgomery County Public Schools Counselor of the Year at the county Board of Education meeting May 30.
Overall, Keller said she loves her job working with high school students, but some days are very emotional, like when helping students cope with the loss of a loved one or deal with difficult home situations.
“I can’t control [their lives], I can only teach and give them the tools,” she said.
Each of the three counselors said they spend a good amount of their time talking with their students about relationships, but, Paterson said, their first priority is to help them succeed in school.
“You have to pay attention to their grades,” he said. “This is a safe place for them and having success here is therapeutic.”
For Paterson’s middle-schoolers, the biggest issue is the transition from grade school, where they had one teacher and one classroom, to a school where they change classes and deal with different teachers.
“It’s a big change for them,” he said. “Middle-school years are the hardest time of all.”
Which doesn’t mean that the youngest students, those in elementary school, don’t keep their counselors busy, too, Leahy-Jones said.
“The things I’m seeing as the biggest change in my 19 years of counseling is the Internet, cellphones, any electronics. They are all coming into the school, and with that comes the challenges of friendships, saying things they shouldn’t and probably regret,” she said.
She said she tries to head off problems and become acquainted with the students by bringing relationship lessons into the classrooms.
“There you can be proactive,” she said. “Heading off problems about learning differences, bullying and friendships. That’s where I put my energy.”
As for the electronics, she said her advice to parents is to monitor their children’s use, though she knows it is hard.
“Montgomery County Public Schools values the important role school counselors play in identifying and utilizing community resources that enhance and compliment comprehensive school counseling programs and help students become productive members of society ...,” schools superintendent Joshua Starr said in a statement congratulating the counselors.