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Interviews with state award-winning Smyrna High counselors

Ben Mace
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
The Smyrna High School counselors, pictured during College Appreciation Week in 2019, from left: James Kiger, Tiffany Duke, Jennifer Wagner, Ashley Carrow, Loveita Moffett and Ron Girton. Not pictured: Sara Black, registrar, and Brenda Solloway, administrative assistant.

Last week, the Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times featured a story about Smyrna High School being selected by the Delaware Department of Education as the first winner of the Sapphire Award for Excellence in School Counseling. This week, the story has been updated with interviews with the counselors.

Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said this new state recognition honors school counseling programs that are comprehensive, data-informed and designed to serve all students.

"Smyrna High's school counselors should be commended for their commitment to students and their dedication to both self-evaluation and the continuous improvement of their services," Bunting said.

The school’s counseling team includes Department Chair Jennifer Wagner, Ashley Carrow, Tiffany Duke, Ron Girton, James Kiger, Loveita Moffett, Sara Black, registrar, and Brenda Solloway, administrative assistant.

According to the Delaware Department of Education, research shows that school counseling programs that are aligned to the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) National Model improve student outcomes.

These comprehensive programs are based on data-informed decision-making; are delivered to all students systematically include developmentally appropriate curriculum focused on the mindsets and behaviors all students need for postsecondary readiness and success; close achievement and opportunity gaps and result in improved student achievement, attendance and discipline.

"Smyrna High School’s counseling program exemplifies these characteristics," Bunting said.

Smyrna Superintendent Patrik Williams congratulated the members of the high school counseling team and commended their efforts.

“We are honored to receive this news, and we are grateful for all of the dedication, compassion and support that our counselor team at SHS provides our families, especially during this difficult time,” Williams said. “Our counselors and mental health teams are vital parts of our educational culture in every school, and this award speaks to the important role that they play every day.”

Principal Stacy Cook said the counseling team “always puts the needs of our students first.”

“Their work impacts our students’ academic success, as well as their physical and mental well-being,” Cook said. “They are proactive advocates for our students to make sure that all of their needs are met as students and as developing young adults. In recent years, we have depended on them to guide us through very difficult times. They are unwavering in their dedication to our students and our staff. SHS is truly blessed to have each of them as part of our school family.”

The Sapphire Award is open to all Delaware public school districts and charter schools. School counseling programs must be implemented by a state-certified school counselor.

Smyrna High will be recognized formally for the award during DSCA’s National School Counseling Week celebrations Feb. 1-5, 2021. 

Interviews with the counselors

Department Chair Jennifer Wagner

What’s your reaction to receiving the award? What does it mean to you?

I’m honored that our counseling department is being recognized as a Sapphire Award for Excellence in School Counseling recipient. I feel very fortunate to be part of the incredible staff at SHS and also to have the district-level support that allows us to always do what is best for our students and families. I’m also proud to be part of our amazing community that supports our students in so many different ways.  

What are two or three main goals you try to accomplish when working with a student?

I want to understand a student's individual goals and their strengths, as well as any barriers that might impact their success. Then we work together to come up with a plan to achieve those goals and to find ways to overcome the barriers. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is making sure we are always finding new and creative ways to engage our students and to get them all of the information they need to be successful in high school and beyond. We’ve taken some of the challenges presented by virtual instruction and used this to develop new ways to communicate with and provide counseling services to students. It has given us the opportunity to rethink some of the ways we provide services, which has been positive.

What’s the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part of my job is when students are able to believe in themselves and their ability to accomplish something that maybe they didn’t think was possible at first. 

Ashley Carrow, college and career counselor

What’s your reaction to receiving the award? What does it mean to you?

I am honored and humbled to receive such a prestigious award for our state. We do not come to work every day looking for recognition, but it is nice when you are noticed for doing what’s best for our students, just as you would any other day.

What are two or three main goals you try to accomplish when working with a student?

As a school counselor, it is always my goal to share strategies that support student achievement with parents, teachers, other educators, and community organizations. I get to do every day, by advocating for their academic, social/emotional, and college/career readiness needs. I have the goal of promoting growth, self-awareness, appreciation of diversity, and a love for learning among all of my students.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

I would have to say that the most challenging part of being a school counselor is that there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all of the goals we’ve set for ourselves to achieve with our students.

What’s the most rewarding part?

Being a part of a student’s story. Knowing that you were able to make a difference, no matter how small.  

Tiffany H. Duke, 12th grade counselor

What’s your reaction to receiving the award? What does it mean to you? 

When I heard from our Department Chair, Jennifer Wagner, that we won the Sapphire Award, I was elated. This was a year-long project requiring many different pieces that included creating and meeting with a community-based Advisory Board, setting goals, revamping lesson plans, collecting evidence, and so much more. To me, it means a lot because it has brought awareness to what a school counselor’s job entails.  

What are two or three main goals you try to accomplish when working with a student?

My first goal when working with students is that they are safe and happy. If their basic needs are being met, then we can concentrate on their academic success. Lastly, as the 12th grade counselor, it is my goal to make sure every student has an obtainable future plan, whether that be college, trade school, military, or work force. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

The most challenging part of my job is helping 400+ students in such a short time frame. Every day, I wish I could have done more, but I remind myself that for each student that I was able to help within that day, it made a difference to him or her. Tomorrow is a new day.  

What's the most rewarding part?

Rewards in counseling vary greatly, but each success is equally important to the student and myself. For example, if a student struggles in math all year and earns a low, but passing, grade on an assessment, we celebrate with the same excitement as a high-achieving student who gets accepted into a prestigious college. Daily rewards are a simple “thank you” from parents and students.

James Kiger, 11th grade counselor

What’s your reaction to receiving this award? What does it mean to you?

I’m very excited to receive this award being that I am the most tenured school counselor in our office I have worked with some outstanding people and I’ve known for a long time that our counseling office has been fantastic in caring for students and putting students first. This group of counselors are top-notch, and I am very proud to be on this team.

What are the two or three main goals you tried to accomplish when working with students?

As of the junior counselor my main goals in working with students are:

1. Making sure that they are on track for graduation;

2. I’m looking to help them start planning for their future whether it be going to college or going directly into the workforce;

3. I want to make sure I’m available to them to help them talk through any issues that they have and be one of their biggest cheerleaders for all they accomplish.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is being able to give each of my students undivided attention and the kinds of service they deserve. Each of us work with close to 400 students. I do my best to communicate electronically with both students and parents, so they have access to information that way. The second hardest thing is when you see a student heading down a wrong path academically and you know the answers to help them, but they are unwilling to listen at this time. Thankfully most of them find the right path later on, and they often come back to thank you for at least trying.

What’s the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing students find success both in school and in life. I am a big believer that whatever path the student chooses will eventually be the correct one for them. I love to see alumni come back and have them tell me that I had a small part in them being the person that they are today.

Loveita Moffett, 10th grade counselor

What’s your reaction to receiving the award? What does it mean to you?

We are thankful that our school counseling program could be recognized for the work we do with students, families and staff at Smyrna High. It was definitely a welcomed bright spot during these uncertain times. 

What are two or three main goals you try to accomplish when working with a student?

When working with students our main goal is to build a relationship with them. This is a top priority for us because it is the most important in building trust with them. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

One of the challenges we find is that every day as a school counselor is unique. It is very rare that two days are similar. 

What’s the most rewarding part?

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a school counselor is playing a supporting role for students as they attempt to decipher some of the more complex times in their lives. 

Ronald Girton, 9th grade counselor

What’s your reaction to receiving the award? What does it mean to you?

I was very excited to learn that we received the Sapphire award. It is great to be recognized for the hard work and dedication of our Smyrna High School counseling team. 

What are two or three main goals you try to accomplish when working with a student?

I strive to build a positive and supportive relationship with the student and provide the tools and resources needed for the student to achieve success.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

Helping the students to see in themselves, the greatness you see in them.

What’s the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part of my job is to see a student achieve success and to develop a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves.