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GCPS picks top counselors of the year

Staff Photo: Heather Darenberg. Arcado Elementary School Principal Joe Ahrens, from left, Collins Hill High School counselor Leslie Harper, Grayson Elementary counselor Dana Edwards, Five Forks Middle School counselor Kelly Flower and Berkeley Lake Elementary School counselor Karen Griffith were honored Monday at Gwinnett County Public Schools' annual counselor recognition program.

Staff Photo: Heather Darenberg. Arcado Elementary School Principal Joe Ahrens, from left, Collins Hill High School counselor Leslie Harper, Grayson Elementary counselor Dana Edwards, Five Forks Middle School counselor Kelly Flower and Berkeley Lake Elementary School counselor Karen Griffith were honored Monday at Gwinnett County Public Schools' annual counselor recognition program.

SUWANEE -- At the start of National School Counseling Week, Gwinnett County Public Schools named its top counseling professionals for 2010.

Five educators were honored Monday at a special event held at the school system's Instructional Support Center. This year's winners are Dana Edwards of Grayson Elementary, Kelly Flower of Five Forks Middle, Leslie Harper of Collins Hill High, Arcado Elementary principal Joe Ahrens and Karen Griffith of Berkeley Lake Elementary School.

Gwinnett County Elementary School Counselor of the Year

Edwards said it's an honor to serve the children and families of Gwinnett County.

"We're in great company," Edwards said of the room full of school counselors. "Everyone in this room does the same work and often without recognition."

Edwards, who has been a counselor for more than two decades, said she thinks the profession is noble.

"Being a school counselor is a calling," she said. "It requires managing your time and resources, utilizing flexibility, and serving a large community of learners."

In addition to providing assistance to students and teachers, Edwards is known for her active role within her professional community. She is a member of several local and national counseling organizations, including the American School Counselor Association, and she was recently invited to be the featured speaker during ASCA's annual national conference to share details from an article she published in the ASCA School Counselor Magazine.

Edwards also is currently leading Grayson Elementary's effort to receive national recognition for implementing ASCA's national model in the school's guidance program.

Gwinnett County Middle School Counselor of the Year

As the seventh-grade counselor at Five Forks Middle, Flower said she prepares her students to be independent learners, removing barriers to learning while creating a nurturing school climate.

"I believe that students are most successful when they are self-motivated and invested in their personal goals and academic achievements, when parents are involved in their children's learning, and when I exemplify empathy, encouragement, optimism, patience, understanding and passion for helping others," she said.

Flower has created an implemented a number of programs to support her school's students academically, emotionally and behaviorally. One program, the "Blazin' Bronco Program," focuses on the top 10 traits of a successful student, recognizing students who exemplify respect, honesty, optimism, encouragement, punctuality, organization, obedience, motivation, responsibility and academic excellence.

Gwinnett County Secondary School Counselor of the Year

Harper said she believes advocacy is crucial to the counseling profession.

"I believe we are called to advocate for those who do not have a voice and need our attention," she said.

On campus, she is credited with many initiatives that have helped students challenge themselves and meet their full learning potential. For example, she implemented a program where peer leaders -- student leaders who help classmates -- help their peers in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program prepare for the Georgia High School Writing Test. This initiative is one that has helped the school maintain a high passing rate on this state test.

Harper also played a role in implementing the ASCA national model at Collins Hill.

Gwinnett County Mary Joe Hannaford Counseling Advocate of the Year

Arcado's counselors sang Ahrens' praises -- literally -- during Monday's presentation. The group sang a song they wrote about Ahrens' support of school counselors.

The counselors said they are appreciative of Ahrens' application for a grant that helped in adding a staff member to their department. The new "academic coach" focuses on assisting identified students who need additional support in improving study skills, organization, test-taking skills, motivation and home-school communication. With the program's success at Arcado, Ahrens has encouraged his counseling team to share this initiative and its results with colleagues throughout the school district.

Ahrens' professionalism and leadership style are also points of pride with his staff

"Joe's open-door policy and easy-going attitude makes him extremely approachable," they said. "Staff members feel that they can talk to him about concerns, and he will truly listen."

Gwinnett County Counselor Writer of the Year

Griffith was honored for her published book titled "Creative Small Groups, Ready-to-Use Lessons for Grades K-5."

Griffith was named the 2008 Georgia Elementary Counselor of the Year and was a finalist for the 2009 National Elementary Counselor of the Year.

The five Gwinnett winners now will compete at the regional level. A regional win would qualify them for state and national recognition.

Gwinnett County counselors continue to be among the most recognized in the United States in state and national honors. In 2009, three Gwinnett educators were named state winners.