Staff Photo: John Bohn Robin Zorn, a counselor at Mason Elementary School in Duluth, has been named the first ever overall statewide counselor of the year. Here, Zorn nstructs a class of fifth-grade students in proper study habits.
DULUTH -- Robin Zorn wields a dry erase marker, eyes moving from face to face, as she poses a question to the room full of fifth-graders:
"Who wants to talk about homework?"
Ten-year-old Darren Li nearly hops out of his seat, right arm outstretched. Others too, like Molly Robbins and Hannah Holley, both 10, can hardly get their hands up fast enough, eager feet stamping the floor.
One would be hard pressed to find another group of young students anywhere on earth so pumped to discuss the details of their take-home assignments. But this is no ordinary class, and Zorn is no ordinary educator.
The Mason Elementary School counselor thinks that, at the heart of it, her role is "to decrease any barriers to academic achievement."
The ten-year veteran of the local school squares off daily with that challenge, armed with puppets, popsicle sticks, markers and inspirational acronyms.
Apparently, there are some out there who think she's doing an exceptional job.
In addition to being named the 2012 Georgia elementary-level counselor of the year, Zorn recently garnered the inaugural title of overall counselor of the year for the state. It's the first time that the Georgia Counselors Association has ever awarded the accolade, and Zorn's boss said it's well deserved.
"It's incredible what a difference she makes for children," said Principal Paula Deweese. "She's quite a presence here at Mason."
Deweese said Zorn will often "stand in the hallways in the morning as the kids are coming into school. She'll hug them. She'll ask how they're doing. Children can sense on an almost instinctive level that Robin cares about them."
That's apparent to students like Li, Robbins and Holley.
"She cares for everyone," Robbins said. "She's always there for us."
Li said that, under the tutelage of Mrs. Zorn, "learning is fun."
Zorn said it works both ways.
"It's just fun to be in here with these children. I love what I do," Zorn said. "I truly do. I don't ever have a day where I don't want to go to work. Yeah, I have stressful days sometimes, and it's very difficult when I can't get to kids that I know need me, but overall it's a lot of fun."
The thing to remember about children, she said, is that, "like adults they have things that go on in their personal lives, and they come into the school setting, which is very structured, carrying the enormous weight of what may go on at home."
Added Zorn: "When children experience something like divorce, and they're really struggling emotionally, having to focus on a thing like math or reading is very difficult for them."
That's where Zorn intervenes.
"You have to really build these kids up," she said. "The one thing they're learning about right now is the four C's:"
"I want them to feel like they're 'connected,' that they can connect with other kids, that they can connect with the school...it helps them feel like they belong. Also, that they feel 'capable.' When kids feel capable they feel like they can do anything. Or that they 'count.' When they count they know that they matter and can make a difference. And the last one is I like to help them have that 'courage,' and if they have courage they can handle problems, not just in elementary school, but in life."
Inspiring the minds of young people is all in a day's work for Zorn, but it wasn't until after obtaining an undergraduate degree in business that she realized it was her calling.
"I did the 9 to 5 business thing for a while," she said. "At one point, I became a youth director at my church, and that's when I realized, wow, I really enjoyed being with kids and working on these lessons with them and talking to them about problems they were having. It was a bigger joy to me than business, and that's what led me to this career."
Added Zorn: "When I found out that the job of an elementary counselor even existed, I was so excited."
Leaders at Mason Elementary are glad she found her passion.
"The statewide counseling award is an honor for Mrs. Zorn, for our school and for the entire district," Deweese said. "She deserves nothing less, and we're proud of her for winning it."
Students in Zorn's class said it was no surprise that the Georgia School Counselors Association had taken notice of the educator they adore.
"She has fun lessons," Li said. "You feel like you're really learning something. We have a good time. It's always fun no matter what we're talking about."
Even discussing homework, he explained, can be enjoyable.