School Counselors make awards
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 8, 2004 2:03 AM
A student who couldn't speak English. A football player and class president who works 30 hours a week as his mother battles cancer. A homecoming princess who was the sole survivor in a car accident that claimed the lives of her two brothers and a friend.
Just a few of the stories shared at Friday's annual school counselors' luncheon. Heartbreaking and touching tales of students who have persevered in spite of personal difficulties.
Each of the public schools in Wayne County nominates one student for the annual counselors' award, with two each chosen to represent the elementary grades, middle and high school populations.
This year the recipients were Becky Chen, a first grader at Meadow Lane Elementary School, Brandon Garris of Fremont Stars Elementary School, Kayla Hare of Norwayne Middle School, Melissa Mervin, an eighth grader at Eastern Wayne Middle School, and seniors Anne Lugo of Eastern Wayne High School and Trevor Handberry of Goldsboro High School.
The luncheon started off on a light note. Hugh Pate of Greenwood Middle School conducted the school's show choir in a few selections, followed by his own remarks about the role of a school counselor.
He said one can always tell the kind of day a counselor is having by "the look" they have on their face when encountered. He offered up a humorous take on how a guidance counselor is often perceived to have no set schedule and lots of spare time.
Then the mood turned poignant as counselors and teachers shared circumstances that led to students from their schools being selected for the honorary award.
Seven-year-old Becky Chen was assigned to Donna Drew's class last year when she arrived at Meadow Lane as part of the English-as-a-second-language class.
"Imagine you're in a new country, you cannot understand anything they're saying to you," Ms. Drew said. "Once she realized she could trust me, she soared."
Ms. Drew said that over the summer, something happened to Becky.
"She turned into a butterfly," she said. "She's amazing. She went from last year telling me, 'I don't know' and 'I can't understand' to this year saying, 'Give me more work.'"
She said it had been a privilege to teach the little girl from China.
Brandon Garris was just three years old when his mother died of cancer a few years ago. Last March, his feelings came out when teacher Kelly Langston assigned the students to write an essay on a time they were sad.
"He was a wonderful mathematician but struggled with reading and writing," Ms. Langston said. She saw his writing take off when he tackled the subject she had given him.
At the luncheon, she read a portion of that essay. In it, he recalled his mother's progressive illness and how it affected him.
"'I was sad because she was very sweet,'" Ms. Langston read, as Brandon covered his face in an attempt to hide his tears. His school counselor, Angie Daniels, stepped up and consoled him.
"'Before she died,'" Ms. Langston continued, "'she wrote me a note and told me I had beautiful eyes...My dad keeps all those notes in a box.'"
For a year and a half, Kayla Hare's symptoms went undiagnosed. By the time she started attending Norwayne Middle School last year in sixth grade, she had learned she had Crohn's disease, an illness which breaks down the gastric system. Because it had been undetected earlier, the symptoms had worsened.
"Last year was a struggle," said Norwayne counselor Tammy Munoz. "She was in the hospital quite a bit. But she'd still call from Chapel Hill and ask for more work."
Ms. Munoz said the youth wants to be a doctor or lawyer and has the determination to reach her goal.
Eastern Wayne Middle School teacher Beth Jorgensen said she had an exemplary class of seventh graders last year. One in particular reminded Ms. Jorgensen of herself.
"There was nothing that she wouldn't do," she said of Melissa Mervin. "She did it right and she did it well. But inside of her, I saw part of me; she was so quiet."
She said Melissa has been able to overcome obstacles, taken what may have been challenges to success and developed into a class leader, someone her peers look up to.
"She never gets in trouble, gets all A's and does everything right but doesn't make a scene about it," she said. "She has blossomed over the last three years. It's been great to see."
Eleven months ago, Eastern Wayne High School student Anne Lugo was involved in a head-on collision with three others on the way to school. The accident claimed the lives of her only siblings and a family friend. She spent months in the hospital in Greenville.
She broke her nose and jaw, both legs, her right arm and hand, fractured her neck and back, and experienced months of recuperation and physical therapy.
She was released from the hospital in mid-May, the week before final exams. She attended awards night in a wheelchair. That night, she learned her grades had put her at the top seven percent of her class and she was named a junior marshal.
"She has continued to challenge herself with AP and honors classes," said her counselor at the school, Christa Coats. "Her sense of responsibility has not wavered since her accident. She has amazing perseverance."
Her latest accomplishments include being named senior homecoming princess in 2003 and she is currently a finalist in the N.C. Teaching Fellows competition.
At Goldsboro High School, Trevor Handberry is a football standout and president of his senior class. Once home, though, he juggles getting his 8-year-old brother to and from school each day and working 30 hours a week to help with the family income since his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2002.
"He has contributed to his own college fund, maintained a 3.35 grade-point average and been accepted to two colleges," said Tosha Raynor, his school counselor. He plans to attend Winston-Salem University and become a pharmacist.
"His football coach said he has the heart of a champion," she said, crediting Trevor with having the determination to do what's best and not just what's easiest.
Co-chairman of the school board Lehman Smith said that the stories shared were touching and reflected some of the challenges faced by today's youth. He applauded the efforts of the counselors for being available in the school system.
"You listen to the problems and troubles and help the students solve them," he said. "You keep the children in school.
"I want to say from the board, we thank all of you for what you do. You keep our schools going."
Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, said that every single student has a story to tell and sometimes teachers and counselors have to figure out what that story is.
"Once you understand the story from which they're operating, it helps us to do our job," he said.
"We have to meet children where they are, regardless of where they are, and we have to make things better for them. We have that opportunity and I think we can look back and know we have made a difference in the life of a child."
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