(Fremont County, WY) – It’s National School Counseling Week, and Riverton High School Counselor Elisa Harrison has returned from Washington, D.C., just in time to celebrate.
Harrison was awarded the 2024 State School Counselor of the Year, representing the state of Wyoming. She has been a school counselor in Fremont County for the last decade, working in both Lander and Riverton.
While in D.C., she got to meet with other top school counselors of the year, visit the Department of Education, meet with different people who work in federal education, and have a voice.
“We had round tables,” Harrison said. “We were able to have input on things such as the FASFA and the college scorecard and social-emotional learning, and a big one that we worked and advocated for was mental health and being able to help schools with resources.”
She has worked at the high school level, and graduation rates have been important to her at both Riverton and Lander.
“We have some fantastic counselors in Fremont County,” she said. “I think I’m the third one from Fremont County that’s been the School Counselor of the Year. If we struggle with graduation rates, the school counselors are the key people to help increase the graduation rates. A lot of times, people have the misconception that school counselors are there just to schedule and to take tests, but we do the mental health, we do the social health, we are trained to look for holes in data and plan programs with our administration to help support the school district in district goals, which is really cool.”
Harrison shared that she is currently a big advocate for getting families involved in student’s post-secondary planning, which was a big deal for her in D.C.
“For me, a big deal in Washington, D.C., was talking about being able to have the resources that we can involve families in their post-secondary planning, whether it be college or employment because right now I feel like that’s a big piece that’s missing for a lot of our kids. Especially first-generation college kids or first-generation high school graduate students, right? Families get nervous, and so trying to be able to encourage the family support and get them in so that they can support their kids making good choices for their post high school planning.”
At the high school level, that looks like reaching out and inviting parents to parent-teacher conferences, making personal invitations for parents to attend things like campus tours with their students, and helping the parents be involved with the FAFSA process, among other things.
“Oftentimes, we just assume the parents and families have that support, and they’ll just show up and do it,” she said. “But a lot of times, they don’t know what they don’t know, right? And so encouraging them and helping support the families in making good decisions.”
Mental health is also a big topic right now on many levels, including schools.
“Licensed school counselors can often earn more money going out and working in private practice than they can coming into schools and working in schools,” Harrison explained. “And so I would say every school district struggles trying to keep school counselors actually trained and certified to do that. But mental health, we talked a lot about what keeps a school counselor there because we are able to do short-term mental health counseling. At the federal level, we had talked to them. They said that they had just gotten some grant money that they were pushing out to schools to try and help stop that gap in funding. That should be coming through the States in the next couple of years. But they asked for input on what do we need? We just need more people on the ground. This week is National School Counselor Week. We talk a lot about what work we do and what we should be doing and promoting our work because we do good work, but a lot of people don’t understand that we do that mental health component as well. And that there’s a shortage. All the Fremont County School Districts have awesome mental health counselors.”
One of the biggest takeaways from her to D.C. is “that our work is worth it.”
“We are making a difference when the Department of Education stands up and says, ‘High school students who meet with a certified high school counselor are 60 percent more likely to go on to have positive post-secondary plans, whether it be college or work.’ To have those plans written down and formalized and able to move. 60 percent, I mean, that’s just huge. We do import work.”
Harrison now asks the public and administrations to thank the school counselors for all of their hard work.
“They’re fantastic,” she said about her fellow school counselors. “We make positive changes. It’s appreciated at all levels. Even though I earned this award this year, I am privileged to work with some of the best in Fremont County.”