Gwinnett honors top counselors, advocate at annual breakfast









Gwinnett honors top counselors, advocate at annual breakfast

In recognition of the vital role that counselors play in support of teaching and learning, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) named its top school counselors at an annual breakfast on Feb. 11 at the Atlanta Marriott Gwinnett Place.

This year’s winners are:

Brenda Zellner of Freeman’s Mill Elementary
2004-05 Elementary School Counselor of the Year

Margaret Cheeley of Creekland Middle
2004-05 Middle School Counselor of the Year

Kay Holleman of Peachtree Ridge High
2004-05 High School Counselor of the Year

Margaret Ackerman, principal of Meadowcreek Elementary
2004-05 Counseling Advocate of the Year

Gina Vines of J.E. Richards Middle
2004-05 Writer of the Year

These Gwinnett winners will go on to compete at the regional level. Regional winners then vie for state recognition. Gwinnett County counselors are consistently among the most recognized in the United States in state and national honors.

Brenda Zellner of Freeman’s Mill Elementary
2004-05 Elementary School Counselor of the Year

One of Brenda Zellner’s goals as a school counselor is to provide experiences that will help to mold students into productive citizens. To further that goal, she implemented a schoolwide character education program at Freeman’s Mill to bring out the best in students, reduce student discipline referrals, reinforce positive values, and maintain a safe and secure school climate. Her initiatives, such as the after-school Character Club and the S.T.A.R.S. (Students Taking Academics Responsibly and Seriously) program, help students learn to develop positive attitudes, set realistic goals, turn mistakes into successes, and learn school rules and organizational techniques.

Another area of passion has been in helping students who have suffered the loss of a loved one, an experience that can be a major barrier to academic, social, and emotional progress. Through Ms. Zellner’s dedication, she has been able to help students move past difficult events and achieve success.

Other initiatives developed by Ms. Zellner include:
  • Establishing a parent lending library and school counseling Web page to help parents in raising happy and healthy children; and
  • Establishing and coordinating the After School Skills Development Program to provide enrichment and remedial instruction to students.
“Brenda is truly a woman of great character, and she brings out the best character traits of those around her,” says Dr. Olivia Hodges, Freeman’s Mill principal. “She is the ‘unsung hero’ of Freeman’s Mill.”

Margaret Cheeley of Creekland Middle
2004-05 Middle School Counselor of the Year

Margaret Cheeley, in the words of fellow counselor Susan M. Thompson, represents the exceptional in school counseling. In her time at Creekland, she has been responsible for an enormous array of programs centered on student success. These programs run the gamut— initiatives to help students with discipline problems to make better choices, transition programs for students entering middle school or moving on to high school, community service, tutoring programs, and peer mediation training programs. She has done extensive work with Safe and Drug Free Schools to write, train, and lead intervention programs for students who have been caught with illegal substances at school and their parents.

Ms. Cheeley also has helped to develop guidance services to help students achieve academic success. Some of these include:
  • S.M.A.R.T.T. (Students Motivated and Ready to Try), a program for students having academic difficulties;
  • Reach Out, an initiative pairing academically and behaviorally at-risk students with staff and faculty members;
  • Smooth Moves, a program to help 8th graders make the move into high school;
  • Skills for Success, a class to train 8th grade students to be leaders in the school and community;
  • C.H.O.I.C.E. Group (Creating Healthy Options in Conduct Effectiveness), a group for students with discipline problems; and
  • Creekland Summer Camp, a course for rising 6th graders to help them achieve success in middle school.
“Margaret the school counselor is the same as Margaret the person,” says Ms. Thompson. “She is committed to community involvement, where she exemplifies a model school counselor.” Her work in the community and throughout the school system illustrates her dedication to helping youth succeed. She is chairperson of the Care Teams for her school and cluster, a leader in Gwinnett’s Peer Leadership program, and active in many youth-oriented community organizations.

Kay Holleman of Peachtree Ridge High
2004-05 High School Counselor of the Year

As the counseling department chair at Peachtree Ridge High when the school opened in 2003, Kay Holleman had the opportunity and challenge of creating an advisement program for the new school. She sought to establish a program that would be the hub of the school, and with that goal in mind, adopted the slogan “Heart of the Lion.” By all accounts, she succeeded with P.R.I.D.E. (Personal Responsibility in Developing Excellence).

“Kay focuses each day on what is best for her students,” say her fellow counselors. Her colleagues praise her ability to balance compassion for students’ immediate needs with focus on their future. Ms. Holleman believes that a key factor in academic, social, and emotional growth is working with the “significant other” in her students’ lives— that is, their parents and peers. To that end, she has designed activities to involve parents in their students’ academic lives. Each grade level counselor offers at least one parent program a year, and the counseling department sponsors from two to four additional parent nights. A College and Career Fair for juniors, seniors, and their parents is now an annual event that kicks off the college admission process. Spring conferences give parents, students, and advisors an opportunity to discuss student schedules, academic, and career goals. The first year, the conferences had an 87% participation rate. Her fellow counselors say that she works with students, parents, and teachers to enhance the educational experience and to enable all students to achieve in school.

Ms. Holleman says, “It is important to be an advocate for the individual student, but a counselor must have values, principles, and treat each student fairly and equally. Sometimes students will hear me roar as I try to direct them back on the right path, or roar with happiness or pride because they have done something great. Either way, my hope is that our counseling office is the ‘heart of the lion’ for each Peachtree Ridge student.”

Margaret Ackerman of Meadowcreek Elementary
2004-05 Counseling Advocate of the Year

Margaret Ackerman, principal of Meadowcreek Elementary, exemplifies what it means to be an advocate for the counseling field. Her counseling team— Kelly Cowart, Amy Dyche, and Ann Short— praises her exemplary support and outstanding promotion of the counseling program. “She has shown us in both word and deed that she values the contributions counselors make to the academic success of students,” they write.

When Ms. Ackerman became principal of Meadowcreek Elementary two months into the 2003-04 school year, school counselors received a call from their counterparts at her former school— letting them know how lucky they were to be welcoming her as their new leader. The Meadowcreek counseling team couldn’t agree more.
Her efforts to help support counselors include taking non-counseling activities off their plates so that they can provide parenting programs during the day, allocating funds for a parent center, and urging counselors to continually improve on their strengths. Ms. Ackerman supports counselors by anticipating their needs and providing them with the tools they need to be able to devote more time to students, doing everything possible to allow counselors to focus on providing direct services. She is an outstanding advocate, frequently reminding faculty of the many things counselors do behind the scenes to help students, faculty, and parents. “She has a way of talking about the day-to-day activities that we do that makes us feel like superheroes,” they say. “We are proud to have her as our advocate, principal, and friend.”

Gina Vines of J.E. Richards Middle
2004-05 Writer of the Year

J.E. Richards Middle Counselor Gina Vines writes about the power of music in her article “Turn On the Music,” published in the July/August 2004 issue of ASCA School Counselor. In the article, Ms. Vines describes her use of popular music in classroom guidance lessons and group counseling. She has used music to invigorate student discussions about motivation to reach goals, career choices, personal awareness, sexual harassment, interpersonal skills, and making changes. From Bon Jovi and Boyz II Men to Garth Brooks and Sister Hazel, popular music— a medium that students appreciate and enjoy— helps them connect with life skills. And Ms. Vines has found that using music has enhanced her lessons and enlivened her relationship with her students. Ms. Vines also was honored as 2004 National Middle School Counselor of the Year, after winning state, regional, and county honors.