Counselors recognize students who have overcome obstacles
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 4, 2010 1:46 PM
Gladys Diggs, left, counselor at Charles B. Aycock High School, was named counselor of the year for Wayne County Public Schools during Wednesday's annual counselor awards ceremony at central office. Students recognized for overcoming obstacles to become successful in school were, from left, Cierra Garner from North Drive Elementary School, Abby Keen from Grantham School, Carolynn Johnson from Southern Wayne High, Dillon Green from Norwayne Middle and Harley Yelverton from Charles B. Aycock. Absent was Ethan Shingleton from Brogden Primary School.
A school counselor's job is challenging enough when there are behavior problems or the need to help a child make up some missed assignments.
But when students are facing such obstacles as bone cancer, frequent hospitalizations and being on transplant lists, the job can become a daunting task.
Each year, in the midst of what is supposed to be National Counselors Week, those in the profession with Wayne County Public Schools decide, instead, to recognize the students they serve.
On Wednesday afternoon, they honored six students -- two each from the elementary, middle and high school levels -- for overcoming obstacles just to be in school.
There was Ethan Shingleton, a first-grader at Grantham School, who takes growth hormones and has lost nearly all his teeth due to the effects of chemo and radiation treatments since being diagnosed with bone cancer at 18 months old.
"It's a rare type that affects less than one out of a million children under 3," said his counselor, Cheryl Stafford. He will not be considered in remission until December 2010, she said.
And yet, Ms. Stafford told the audience, he remains a happy, outgoing, active little boy "full of life" with a contagious grin.
The other elementary school honoree was Cierra Garner, who had just been released from yet another stay in the hospital.
"Cierra has spent most of her life in the hospital," said Laverne Smith, school counselor. "She did not come home until she was 2 years old."
Her "short-gut syndrome," caused by shortened intestines, requires her to be on feeding tubes and drainage tubes.
"She has never eaten solid food," Ms. Smith said, adding that the second-grader is currently on a transplant list at Duke.
"She works hard, never complains and smiles all the time," she said. "She's very much in tune with her physical limitations and needs. She makes it so easy to take care of her."
Norwayne Middle School Counselor Tammy Munoz described her hero-student, Dillon Green, who struggles with physical as well as emotional issues that made him apprehensive about starting middle school.
His spirit and willingness to work hard, along with being in a supportive environment, have helped him become successful.
To demonstrate his strength and personality, she called upon Dillon to perform a song he recently did at a school assembly, "RESPECT," made popular by Aretha Franklin. After a few bars, he received a standing ovation.
Kim Kennedy, school nurse at Grantham, introduced that school's nominee, a vivacious 13-year-old cheerleader whose appearance belied the struggles she has faced since losing her father to cancer when she was in third grade.
Several health problems have plagued Abigail Keen and in recent months, there have been several hospitalizations and she is now on a liver transplant list.
"To look at Abby, you would never know anything was wrong with that child," Ms. Kennedy said. "She always demonstrates such a good spirit about herself."
Two area seniors were also recognized and applauded for staying on task to graduate this spring despite their own challenges along the way.
At Charles B. Aycock High, counselor Gladys Diggs shared how Harley Yelverton had to give up playing football because of frequent, "sometimes life-threatening" seizures whose cause is still undetermined.
"He's constantly in and out of hospitals, but does not use his health as an excuse," she said. "Harley perseveres and prepared diligently for his graduation project, which was on law enforcement."
Carolynn Jackson, a Southern Wayne High senior, also recently completed her graduation project, on the disease she has battled since birth -- sickle cell anemia.
Procedures frequently keep her out of school, but when she is there, she is an asset to any class, counselor Andrea Britt said.
"It's a pleasure to know her quiet strength and dedication," said Ms. Britt, noting that Carolynn's graduation project earned her the class's only perfect score.
The student awards ceremony is held each year, and each year the stories are touching and poignant, said Dr. Steven Taylor, school superintendent.
"But these are true stories that happen every day in our schools," he said. "It says to me that our students can excel in spite of adversity ... that here are examples of (students) who have every reason not to put forth an effort but they do in spite of everything."
Behind each of the students acknowledged, parents and grandparents stood with them. Taylor congratulated the relatives for their strong support, and challenged those in the audience to also "work harder with our kids."
Also recognized during the ceremony was Ms. Diggs, named counselor of the year for 2009-10.
"I have worked with her for six years," said her co-counselor at CBA Renee Dilda. "I have watched her as she diligently and respectfully serves our students and staff at CBA. Gladys always manages to handle the task with professionalism and a sense of humor."
Ms. Diggs has also served the district as president of the Wayne School Counselor Association for several years.
"I do take my job very seriously," Ms. Diggs said. "I think it's a blessing from God to be called to listen to young people. There's so many students out there who just need someone to listen to them. It's not always that we can solve the problem or give a big fix. Sometimes it's just about being there for them."