03/21/16 — Five are honored for work in county

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Five are honored for work in county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 21, 2016 1:46 PM

The Wayne County School Counselors Association held its annual students awards ceremony recently, recognizing five "overcomers" and naming its counselor of the year for the district.

The awards are presented every year to students who have shown a strong work ethic, good citizenship and behavior, even as they face obstacles in their lives.

Two elementary school students, two from middle school and one from high school were acknowledged for their perseverance amid adversity, with Troy Harris, counselor at Brogden Primary School named 2016 counselor of the year.

Matthew Daughtry-Grubbs, a counselor at Grantham Middle School, gave the cryptic introduction to this year's recipient of the counselor award, saying the person "goes above and beyond what's required" and has the respect of counselors at all grade levels.

An unsuspecting Harris, sitting on the front row recording the proceedings on his iPad, had to hand the device to another counselor to accept the crystal award.

"This is a great big surprise," he said. "I thank God. I don't know who nominated me."

Jamie Livengood, military counselor for the district, said afterward that he had been nominated by a fellow counselor in the school system.

Counselor Sharon Cox introduced the first student recipient, Isabella "Izzy" McKeel, 7, a student at Grantham Elementary School.

The curly-haired brunette with a perpetual smile -- "I think she even smiles in her sleep," Ms. Cox said -- belied the fact that she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia three years ago.

She underwent more than two years of chemotherapy but continued to persevere, encourage the best in others and become a "model student," Ms. Cox said.

Izzy's family created a campaign to help others, providing 88 Build-A-Bears, with outfits, to the pediatric oncology patients at Duke. It is being expanded to several other hospitals, she said.

"Izzy's strength and attitude have taught her family, her friends and her school so much more than we could have taught her," Ms. Cox said.

Michelle Gurley, Meadow Lane Elementary School counselor, recognized ML student Marlene "Marley" Convers. Previously home-schooled, this has been her first year in public school, Mrs. Gurley said.

"She has faced many challenges since the first day she came into this world," she said, explaining that Marley had a large cyst on her brain and was born without a cerebellum. "She has overcome multiple surgeries and was not expected to walk or talk."

Despite the physical, and personal issues, including her military father being away on assignment for a time, she maintained a positive attitude, she said. She even recently tested into the AIG, academically and intellectually gifted, program.

"She keeps her chin up regardless," Mrs. Gurley said. "Her teacher, Mrs. Booker, said (Izzy) taught her what the word perseverance means."

Rosewood Middle School counselor Angie Rains recognized a sixth-grader at her school, Kelsee Ayers.

Major health issues the summer before sixth grade resulted in the doctor recommendation that Kelsee receive homebound services, Mrs. Rains said.

It has been challenging to miss so much school, but that hasn't kept the talented artist down, she said.

"She continues to persevere. She is a role model for other students and staff," Mrs. Rains said. "We are so proud of her at Rosewood Middle School. She's worked extremely hard this year, maintaining an 'A' average.

"Kelsee's fighting very hard to get back to school. She doesn't want to miss anything and she misses her peers. We're looking forward to her coming back to Rosewood when she's ready."

Two recipients were unable to be at the ceremony.

Weston Wright, a Norwayne Middle School student, had surgery in December to remove a brain tumor discovered just days before, said counselor Heather Webster.

"He's an all-around strong student that's highly respected by his teachers and peers," she said.

Reading from the nomination, she said he had returned to school in January but continued to experience fatigue and still has several weeks of treatment ahead of him.

Mrs. Livengood stepped in for Kerri Loury, 2015 counselor of the year and nominator of the high school recipient from her school, Wayne Early/Middle College High.

Ashley Larimore, 17, had to miss the proceedings for a very good reason, Mrs. Livengood said -- she is at Duke, having just had a heart transplant last week.

While living with a heart condition, she completed her studies at WEMCH, including picking up college credits. Her senior project, she said, was a toy drive for young patients at Duke Hospital, Ashley's "home away from home" this past year.

A "pure ray of sunshine" to all who know her, Mrs. Livengood said Ashley has inspired many on that campus and in the community as she blogs about her experiences.