Indianola counselors win award

Indianola school counselors are, from left, Emily Matsumura, Irving Elementary; Jen Pribil, Emerson Elementary; Tina Chaplin, Middle School; Lacey Cherniss, Middle School; Tim Babcock, Whittier Elementary; Emily Schwery, Indianola High School; Jori Coghlan, Indianola High School; Janel Cram, Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary; Anna Wernimont, Middle School; and Kyla Bandstra, Indianola High School.

School counselors tend to wear a lot of hats.

Helping students with emotional or social issues may be the most obvious, but there’s also class schedules, transitioning between buildings, career planning, even the occasional ride to school …

And now, in Indianola, they have another role: Award winners.

The Iowa School Counselor Association has named the Indianola Community School District as a District of Distinction for the work of its counseling program.

“I was elated. I was emotional,” said Tina Chaplin, one of the counselors at the middle school, on hearing the news. “I think it’s just validation that we are working to meet the needs of the students.”

Every counselor with the district was named in the honor: Chaplin, Jen Pribil, Emily Mastsumura, Tim Babcock, Janel Cram, Lacey Cherniss, Anna Wernimont, Jori Coghlan, Emily Schwery and Kyla Bandstra.

“We have an incredibly caring, professional counseling staff who work very hard for our kids,” said Superintendent Art Sathoff.

The award is new, and its announcement kicks off National School Counseling Week Feb. 4-8. Norwalk, Bondurant-Farrar and Monticello were the only three other school districts in Iowa designated Districts of Distinction.

To be considered, counseling programs must have completed four years of conferences, known as “Counselor Academy,” with their Area Education Agency and submit a collective portfolio of work demonstrating seven components.

And they had about a month do it. The invitation to apply went out in mid-November, the deadline Dec. 31.

Counselors in Indianola typically meet once per month for professional development when class is dismissed early on Wednesdays. They had approval to use two of these time slots to focus on the project, besides time working individually.

It only seems fitting: According to Annette Jauron, who is principal of Indianola Middle School and oversees the district’s counseling program, these monthly early-out meetings have been key in making the program what it is.

“The opportunity for the counselors to collaborate during the district’s early release time on Wednesdays has been a significant factor in the program growth that has occurred,” she said.

Of course, there’s also the dedication of the counselors themselves.

Chaplin, for instance, began her career as a math teacher at another district. She went back to college to get her counseling degree when she saw how some of her students were struggling.

“I started seeing all the challenges … all the adversity and barriers these kids were facing,” she explained. “How can I stand in the classroom and try to teach them when they can’t get to school, or they have a baby?”

Wernimont, another counselor at the middle school, is in her first year on the job. But she knew she wanted to go into this line of work when she was still in high school, after mentoring a middle school student.

“She was an awesome kid who had so much potential,” Wernimont recounted. “I would hear her often express what she wanted, but then she would quickly reply, ‘That would never happen for me.’

“It broke my heart every day I saw her. I knew I wanted to have an impact on the lives of people to empower them to reach their full potential.”

And that’s one reason the District of Distinction award means so much, said Cherniss, also a middle school counselor. The entry from Indianola ended up being 150 pages and earned a perfect score for the category of core curriculum, but it represents a larger commitment.

“This was a K-12 award,” Cherniss explained. “Even though our programs are different—elementary, middle school and high school—I think we all have worked toward the same goal of advocating for every child.”

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