Maple Hill counselor gets top honor

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BY ANDREAS YILMA
CITIZENS NEWS

NAUGATUCK — The Connecticut School Counselor Association has selected Maple Hill Elementary School counselor Laura Kelley as the 2024 Counselor of the Year. The school held a parade on March 6 to celebrate her achievement.

Kelley will be honored at the annual CSCA Gala this May at the University of Connecticut. CSCA will also recognize the recipients of several other CSCA Awards which include several other school counselors, graduate and high school students and school staff at the gala.

Kelley said she was surprised but extremely honored by the award. She feels like the accomplishment represents growth both professionally and personally since her career as a counselor began five years ago.

“I feel I found my voice throughout my time as a school counselor and I’ve really worked to build a strong program at our elementary school,” Kelley said.

CSCA’s Professional Recognition Committee receives numerous nominations annually for this honor, which are collected annually from schools and districts across the state, the organization said.

“Laura’s nomination highlighted the dedication and effort she brings to her students, and the profession of School Counseling,” the CSCA said. “Laura’s colleagues speak highly of her desire to advocate for school-wide initiatives, integrate herself in community based programs, and create positive relationships with students and families.”

Kelley, who lives in Harwinton, said elementary school counseling is not mandated in the state compared to middle and high schools but added that she always wanted to do elementary school counseling and is lucky to have this position.

“I put a lot of effort into making a very strong counseling program and I feel like I have a great support system within my building but also other counseling colleagues throughout the state that gave me a lot of courage to lean into it bravely and take chances and start initiatives,” Kelley said.

“Laura’s work and dedication at Maple Hill Elementary School is a genuine example of the important role school counselors play at the elementary level; and further complements CSCA’s continued advocacy for more School Counselors at the K-6 level across the state,” CSCA said.

Before Kelley was a school counselor, she was paraprofessional in couple of different school districts.

“I was so passionate about finding a school that had elementary school counseling,” Kelley said. “I wanted to work with elementary children and I just found that throughout my counseling program, I just found that it was something that was really important for students to have an elementary school counselor.”

Kelley said many times, people have a perception of school counselors and attributed it to college readiness and career readiness however there’s more to it and at this level there is a lot of social emotional learning.

“The kids are the best part, seeing them everyday. I make a point to stay in the hallway and greet every student,” Kelley said. “We have almost 450 students and I make a point to know all of their names and just start their day on a great note.”

Her biggest goal is to have students that want to come to school and be apart of and enjoy the school experience but added students’ mental health is extremely important.

“It’s so important to address students’ mental health needs and just basic needs because they’re not going to do their best learning if that’s not addressed,” Kelley said. “I say my key values are relationships come first and always do what’s best for kids and make sure that you’re really listening to them. If they are in need of something, making sure that we’re collaborating with families and community services to make sure that kids are getting what they need.”

Kelley is invited to go for the American School Counseling Association School Counselor of the Year Award. She expects to know the outcome by the end of the school year.

Kelley said she has supportive administrations in both the elementary school and the school district that encourage her to dream big, work on projects and be brave to start initiatives.

“I’m going to continue to be a big advocate for the importance of school counseling profession but also elementary school counseling profession,” Kelley said.