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Midway Heights Elementary School awarded for comprehensive counseling

Kristin Kennedy (above) sits at a table where students can write encouraging notes to their fellow classmates. Six colorful bins sit on the table, labeled with different grades. A sign on the table reads: "Encouragrams for our Eagles" with a rainbow graphic, alongside directions for students to write encouraging notes to their classmates and place them in the bins.
Photo courtesy of Kristin Kennedy
Kristin Kennedy (above) sits at a table where students can write encouraging notes to their fellow classmates. Kennedy said she makes an effort to keep in touch with every student at Midway Heights on a regular basis, including by checking-in at the front door with students who may need it in the morning.

Midway Heights Elementary School was awarded the Dr. Norman C. Gysbers Nationally Recognized Missouri Program award for its comprehensive counseling program.

Kristen Kennedy is a counselor at Midway Heights. She said that the core of comprehensive counseling is being proactive. There are multiple parts to the approach, but the goal is to meet kids where they are.

“Each day I encourage kids to talk to me about the good and the bad," Kennedy said. "I want to be there for their success and of course, I’m always here to listen and to problem solve for the things that are more difficult for them as well."

As the only counselor at Midway Heights, Kennedy is a one-woman army for the school's comprehensive counseling program.

Kennedy said that, while every day is different, she can usually be found teaching social-emotional lessons, working with small groups or having lunch with individual students.

“I get so many hugs each morning," Kennedy said. "Kids come in. They give me a great big hug, they're so happy I'm here, and if I'm ever sick, the next day when I come back. Like, 'Where were you? We were so worried about you, Mrs. Kennedy.'"

Kristin Kennedy (pictured above) is the only counselor at Midway Heights Elementary School. She is wearing a denim button-down shirt and a cream-colored braided headband.
Photo courtesy of Kristin Kennedy
Kristin Kennedy (pictured above) is the only counselor at Midway Heights Elementary School. She said she starts her days standing at the front doors of the school, where she greets students by name and gives out hugs and high-fives.

Susan Perkins, the Director of Elementary School Counseling at Midway Heights, said that a major factor in the school's success is the ratio of students to counselors. Even though Kennedy is the only counselor at the school, the population falls just below the recommended ratio for one counselor.

“As a result of being so staffed so well, [Kennedy] has been able to serve students in ways other school counselors across the state have not,” Perkins said.

According to Perkins, Kristin Kennedy also makes an effort to get to know every student at Midway Heights.

“A couple of years ago she started meeting with students and ended up meeting with every single student at lunchtime, just to be able to connect with them at the start of school,” Perkins said.

Kennedy has been at Midway Heights for 13 years. While reflecting on her career, she remembered how difficult the pandemic was.

“Trying to provide school counseling services virtually … there were some days that were difficult. The kids are what keep me coming back and it was very difficult not to have that reminder,” Kennedy said.

Looking at her past is what drives Kennedy’s passion for counseling. She said she was bullied when she was in school and didn’t know what a counselor was until she was applying for graduate school. She said she doesn’t want any of her students to have the experience she had:

“I just love the idea of having an advocate for every student in the building with them on the ground there to advocate or just to be someone that they can trust and talk to if they need it."

Alex Cox is a Junior in the Missouri School of Journalism. They're a reporter and producer for KBIA.
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