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I Want Students to Know They Can Be Successful

Jamie was named the 2020 Iowa High School Counselor of the Year by the Iowa School Counselor Association late last fall. We asked her a few questions about school counseling today. 

What are some of the challenges in school counseling today?

There is no way to answer this question without talking about the giant COVID elephant in the room! It dramatically affected the class of 2020 and is dramatically impacting the class of 2021. What remains to be seen is how classes for the next 12 years will be affected by this last year in education. We would be foolhardy to believe there will not be new and unforeseen challenges ahead.

Counselors are often planners. We look ahead and try to see needs before they arise. We work with students to set post-high school goals and help them lay the path to achieving them. Yet, our jobs are becoming increasingly responsive and reactive. The needs and demands of our stakeholders continue to grow and evolve, faster than we can train and prepare. I feel like my greatest challenge is that I spend so much time working with what is flying through the door each day that I do not have the time to be proactive and be intentional and purposeful in my work.

What affect can school counselors have on students?

When you are in the school counselor grind, I think it is hard to see your impact. But I am certain that just about every school counselor has had a grown adult talk to them about that school counselor who did not help them or support them. People do not forget that. That is impact. Not good impact, but impact nonetheless. So, if counselors can leave that kind of lasting impression, we certainly must be able to use our “powers” for good and not evil! Impact is personal. I believe that being a school counselor, and educator in general, we must look at students as individuals. Every child needs something different. They all have buckets that need to be filled, but they are not always the same need and not all of them can be filled the same way. We need to know our kids, know their stories, know their world . . . and with that knowledge we need to tailor our work with them to meet their needs and help them hurdle barriers.

Why did you want to become a school counselor?

As a teacher, I loved the connections I formed with my students. I loved that as those relationships grew, I was no longer just teaching them music, but I was teaching them “life.” Counselors are teachers. We educate in a different kind of classroom. Through our work with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Mindsets and Behaviors we teach students about academics, career development, and social and emotional growth. We don’t teach core curriculum, but we teach them life across these three domains. I found this to be my greatest passion—working with young people navigating their way to adulthood.

What life lessons have you learned being a school counselor?

My students, and their families, have taught me so many things over the years. They have had impact on me! I think one lesson that sticks with me most is to assume the best of intentions in people. Things are not always what they appear to be. As an educator you must peel back layers and layers to begin to understand someone’s perspective. A person’s perspective is their reality. I believe that most of the time teachers, parents, and students want to do their best and do the right thing, but sometimes they lack the skills and experience to do it in the most appropriate or effective way. Sometimes it is our job to help teachers, parents, and students see each other’s perspectives so that they can move forward together.

What ONE thing do you want your students to know?

Just one? That is tough! I could write a book on all the things I want them to know! I want students to know they CAN. They can be successful. They can fail. They can be kind. They can make bad choices. They can rise above. They can work hard. They can take the easy road. They can find a place in this world for them. They can be loved. They can give love. They can get up when they get knocked down. They can persevere. They simply can. I believe they can and I will believe for them until they believe for themselves.

If you could change one thing about school counseling, what would it be?

That is an easy one! ASCA recommends that schools strive to have a 250:1 student to counselor ratio. I have been a counselor for 16 years and I have never had a caseload smaller than 350—in fact most years it has been well over 400. When you talk about impact and meaningful work, caseload is a huge factor. When I think about working with a manageable caseload my mind runs amok with all the possibilities!

What does it mean to you to be chosen as the 2020 Iowa School Counselor of the Year?

I am so honored to have just been nominated! I am not a big “spotlight” person, but I had hoped that I might be able to bring attention to the needs of my community and my students. I have been in the Cedar Rapids Community School District since 2007. In the last 13 years (which spans an entire K-12 cohort of kiddos), the city of Cedar Rapids has endured three once-in-a-lifetime natural disasters. The Flood of 2008, Flood of 2016, and the 2020 Derecho. Some of our families lost their homes in each of these events. Once you factor in the pandemic and the economic impact on families it is hard to comprehend the level of loss many are experiencing. How do we as educators ask children to focus on learning (on and offline), when their world continues to be turned on its head? How do we help them set goals and plan for a future, when we can’t be certain what is happening tomorrow? Being the 2020 Iowa School Counselor of the Year means that I will talk to anyone who will listen about the needs of our community and how to get them the support and tools they need to keep chasing their dreams.

About the Iowa School Counselor of the Year

Jamie Cummins is one of the school counselors at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She received her undergraduate degree in teaching at Wartburg College and her master’s degree in counseling at California Lutheran University. She has been in education for 23 years and has worked across all grade levels. She has been a counselor in two different school districts: Los Angeles Unified School District and the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Jamie has two amazing children, one of whom is a senior this year.

Kudos from former student, Sienna O’Connor:

“No matter the situation or question I had, Mrs. Cummins was always there to support me so that I could excel. If she couldn’t personally help me, she knew who to contact and how to get me where I wanted to go. She was always there to push me, making me aware of any opportunity available, and I thank her for that.”

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