Skyview Middle School Guidance Counselor Natalie Kant could retire, but she won’t. She doesn’t want to.
Instead, she keeps sinking her hands into more projects that expand the reach of services counselors provide to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District staff and students. And, her work is not going unnoticed.
“With her, it’s more like, ‘What doesn’t she do?’” said Sarge Truesdell, Skyview principal. “Natalie has got her hands in every single piece of the school.”
Truesdell said when he wrote Kant’s letter of recommendation to the Alaska School Counselor Association for her Counselor of the Year application, he was right in having no doubt she would snag the award. The accolade served as a launching point for her trip to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28.
Kant attended First Lady Michelle Obama’s second annual Counselor of the Year event as the state representative for the American School Counselor Association, the Alaska School Counselor Association’s national counterpart, where she found a previously inaccessible nationwide network of her peers, gained some insight to bring back home and secured a new set of resources to tap into.
“For Kenai, it really shows the caliber of counselors we have employed in this school district,” said Kenai Central High School counselor Leslie Fazio. “…We are so proud of Natalie. She represented our state really well. … We are so happy with how she represented the state and how she represented the profession.”
Kant said she was also excited to have spent some time talking to John King, acting secretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education. They discussed Kant’s pursuit to connect Kenai Peninsula counselors with a national community of counselors.
King was very interested in what work is being done by counselors in Alaska, Kant said.
The two talked about her application for the Recognized American School Counselor Association Model Program, for which Kant is currently completing the process.
The Recognized American School Counselor Association Model Program is the Alaska Measures of Progress test for guidance counselors, she said. It is a five-year designation that goes to individual schools that follow the American School Counselor Association model to a tee, and measures the effectiveness of the site’s counseling program on the success of its students.
In Alaska, one counselor is available for every 435 students, according to the American School Counselor Association. The association recommends a 250-to-1 ratio.
Only Wyoming, Vermont and New Hampshire meet that recommendation. The current average is 491-to-1, which is nine students more than in 2015, according to the association.
During her speech at the Counselor of the Year event, Michelle Obama discussed the critical role counselors play for many students throughout the nation.
“I am standing here today because I believe that every child in this country deserves that kind of support and attention, and every child deserves the resources they need to succeed in school and then complete higher education,” she said.
The first lady noted new federal initiatives that are putting millions into funding for resources that would help counselors more easily carry out their jobs. For some of the country’s students, having the added help of a counselor can be the line between success and failure, she said.
“So we’re making progress. But I want to be very clear: As far as I’m concerned, we’re just getting started,” she said.
If Kant can make her school a model program school, she will be the first to have done so in the state, further expand her professional network and secure more resources her school can pull from.
“Counselors help ensure that we are preparing the next generation of parents, workers, leaders and citizens,” Kant said. “Every student needs the support of a guidance counselor.”
One caveat is that she must back up her claims in the application with cold, hard data, which isn’t always easy to find or apply. Luckily, she is somewhat of a wiz in interpreting trends.
“I enjoy helping people and it doesn’t matter if it is students or parents or staff,” Kant said. “I am an out-of-the-box kind of thinker.”
Any records that can provide insight into further helping students are valuable, Kant said. It is also necessary to know how to apply the data, she said.
For example, by knowing which students are the lowest performers in their class and how many of them there are, counselors can know where to direct early career planning. It can also help alert counselors to who might need more individual interventions, such as students who aren’t on time to complete their career clusters, but haven’t sought out extra assistance, she said.
Kant said it also helps to have a good team behind her.
“Our data processing group is fabulous,” Kant said. “If we can think it, they are creating it and giving to us … when something comes up we are needing data for, they are making our job a lot easier, and it is faster to obtain information.”
Truesdell said the school’s staff schedule is virtually flawless because of Kant. She could look at another school’s master calendar, and even though it might be completely different, she would immediately spot holes that could make things run a little smoother, he said.
Much of Kant’s recent recognitions have to do with her specific set of skills of being able to apply large pools of relevant data, said Sara Moore, the school district counselor-specialist who oversees the 15 other counselors that work at one or multiple middle or high school sites throughout the district.
“As school counselors we provide a comprehensive program that basically has three domains,” Moore said. “We do the academic piece and the career piece and then the social-emotional piece. And as anybody who has worked with adolescents knows, those three things are equally important to their success.”
All counselors are also trained in knowing how those three pieces interact at any given time throughout a student’s school career, she said.
Also, in the state of Alaska, all certified guidance counselors have their master’s degrees, Fazio said.
Kant said much of her day is not only academic and career planning, but talking to students about their relationships with friends, family, partners and themselves. Some of the most pervasive hardships she sees students going through are living in a broken home, being homeless, the death of a loved one and grief, she said.
It may mean they need extra support at school because they are unable to receive that elsewhere, Kant said.
Counselors can be called on to handle anything from new transfers to divorce to big topics like suicide, because they are reliable and trained to handle the situation sensitively, Fazio said.
“We kind of get to be the cleanup crew at times,” Fazio said.
The school district’s 16 counselors meet four times each year to make sure their goals align and receive extra support for site-specific issues, Fazio said.
Kant said she is not the only school district counselor from that group connecting the services and programs with state and national networks, nor is she the only one being recognized for her hard work.
She noted Erin Neisinger, a Soldotna High School counselor, has been selected to represent the state of Alaska at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Legislative Conference and Action Meeting this month.
“She will be meeting on Capitol Hill with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Representative Don Young to advocate for college access for all students,” Kant said.
Fazio will move into the role of President-Elect on the Alaska School Counselor Association on July 1, and counselors Natalie Jones and Sammie Johnson both serve on committees for the Alaska School Counselor Association, Kant said.
Kant said she and her peers also all have backgrounds in counseling and education, and want to promote the support of students academically and emotionally in a non-judgmental way in common.
“My quote is, ‘If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life,’” Kant said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.