Southeast Missouri State University alumna Olivia Carter was recently recognized as one of five national finalists for the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) 2021 School Counselor of the Year award.
The award honors exemplary school counseling professionals who devote their careers to serving as advocates for the nation’s students, helping them achieve success in school and in life.
“It has been very surreal to be recognized,” Carter said. “I am very honored to be a finalist, and I feel a sense of duty to continue to advocate for school counseling and our students.”
After earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology in 2011 and a Master of Arts in school counseling two years later, both from Southeast, Carter began to work as a school counselor and found her way to Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, where she has worked for five years.
Carter was also honored in October 2019 as the 2019-2020 Missouri School Counselor of the Year by the Missouri School Counselor Association. In addition, she participated in the 2017-2018 Missouri School Counselor Association Emerging Leader program, and currently serves as president-elect for the Southeast Missouri School Counselor Association.
“I’m passionate about school counseling advocacy,” Carter said. “I think every student deserves a school counselor in their building, and I believe they should have support in implementing a comprehensive school counseling program.”
ASCA will announce the 2021 School Counselor of the Year in late fall.
On what inspired her to pursue a career in school counseling:
When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wanted to work with kids. My advisor at the time encouraged me to look into the counseling program at Southeast, and at the same time, I had decided to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. That really opened my eyes to how kids’ needs could be met within the school, and soon after that I decided to pursue my master’s in school counseling.
On what excites her about working as a school counselor:
At this time, school counseling is starting to be understood as an essential part of school, and counselors have highly valuable skills. Our programs address social emotional learning, restorative practices, and equitable, trauma-informed approaches to learning. It’s a really exciting time to be a school counselor.
The most exciting thing that I could wish to be a part of is helping students feel seen, heard and valued, and that’s what I do every day as a school counselor.
On how she spends a typical day on the job:
I always start outside by greeting students and families. When I get inside, I typically have a few students that visit me first thing in the morning as a check-in. Otherwise, I’ll go to each classroom and check on students and teachers. I teach several lessons each day around a social-emotional skill, an academic skill or career exploration. I may meet with individual students, meet with small groups and make parent phone calls. I also make referrals to outside services and help when students and families are in need. Every day is totally different, but at the end of the day school counseling is all about building and maintaining relationships.
I, along with the administrators, make goals each year for the counseling program at our school. We use data from the previous school year and stakeholder surveys to determine what our students need. The goals we create inform the lessons I teach, the small groups I develop and the interventions I use with individual students. So, while every day feels very different, it’s all very intentional and purpose driven.
On her favorite career moments and goals for the future:
I have so many amazing memories in the classroom, but my favorites involve some of the projects we have done at Jefferson Elementary. Last year, our fourth-grade students completed their own career simulations and then hosted a career fair for the rest of the school. It brought out this really authentic independence and leadership, and I think it was exciting for everyone.
I hope to continue learning and growing as a school counselor. My goal is to help construct a school environment that helps every single student experience success, one that builds on students’ resilience and creates equitable spaces for learning.
On why she chose Southeast:
I chose Southeast for my undergraduate degree because it wasn’t too far from home, it was affordable, and I could continue to play music in wind symphony and orchestra. By the time I started my graduate degree, I was invested in the community and I knew that the University’s counseling program was accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), so it seemed like the most sensible choice.
Having smaller class sizes and opportunities for leadership definitely prepared me to be a leader within the school counseling profession. Southeast played a huge role in making me the professional I am today.
On advice for Southeast graduates:
Join organizations, get to know your professors, and find passions and hobbies while you are there. I cherish the memories I made and the friendships I built while at Southeast.