Alumna Named Oregon School Counselor of the Year

Kelso the Frog’s backpack is loaded up and ready to deploy.

Part of a conflict management curriculum, Kelso visits every lower-elementary classroom at Fern Hill Elementary School with counselor Marinda Peters ’05, MA ’08. He offers young students options for resolving minor conflicts — and his backpack is filled with prizes for the most respectful students.

The curriculum is used at several local schools, but Peters says that Fern Hill’s “Kelso” is the best.

“This was given to me by an instructional assistant to replace a tiny one I had,” Peters said. “Every school has a Kelso, but every school doesn’t have as awesome of a Kelso.”

Conflict resolution is just one of many skills Peters imparts on the 370-plus children at Fern Hill.

As a comprehensive elementary school counselor, Peters works with every student at the school.

She visits each classroom weekly, teaching lessons such as bullying prevention or mindfulness, and focusing on social, emotional and academic skills, as well as some college and career preparation.

She runs targeted groups for students in need of extra support, as well as one-on-one sessions with some individuals.

“There may be something going on at home or at school, or we just don’t know — they just need a little love,” she said.

Peters also sits on every committee at the school, and she manages referrals for everything from students needing mental health counseling to a warm coat.

It’s a big job, but it’s the one Peters has always wanted.

“I liked that community feel of the school. I really connected with the staff … and it offered the pathway I wanted.”

When she was a student in the Forest Grove school system, she found a role model in her own school counselor.

“I didn’t receive services, but I idolized her, who she was and what she represented,” Peters said.

Throughout her education, Peters didn’t stray from her chosen path. She started college at the University of Oregon then transferred to Pacific for the smaller school atmosphere.

“I liked that community feel of the school,” she said. “I really connected with the staff … and it offered the pathway I wanted.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then went on to earn a master’s from the School of Professional Psychology, taking evening classes and balancing her degree program with working and raising her sons, now 7 and 10.

She was working as a behavioral consultant in Forest Grove and Hillsboro schools when she was asked to apply for the counselor position at Fern Hill.

Her master’s degree doesn’t actually qualify her to work as a school counselor — a fact she knew going in — but she was hired on an emergency license because she had the skills that the school needed, including the ability to speak fluently in English and Spanish, especially important as Forest Grove’s student population is about 50 percent Hispanic and 20 percent English language learners.

She went on to pursue her school counseling license through Portland State University, where she now is also working on her PhD in counseling education.

“I really like the path I took,” she said. “I could have gone straight into school counseling, but I wouldn’t have as strong a mental health background. It gives me a perspective that helps me as I’m here.”

That perspective has helped make Peters a stronger counselor. This fall, she was named the 2014 Oregon School Counselor of the Year, and she is in the running for national School Counselor of the Year in 2015.

Peters is honored by the recognition because she values high-quality school counselors.

“I’m passionate about school counseling as an opportunity to reach kids,” she said. “Really capable school counselors are important to me.”

“We need a new batch of compassionate people.”

That’s why she’s also working to pay it forward. She supervises to counseling interns from Pacific’s School of Professional Psychology, who in turn provide mental health services to students that public schools otherwise couldn’t provide.

She is education chair of the Oregon School Counselor Association and hopes to strengthen professional development opportunities for her colleagues.

And, she plans to use her PhD to split her time between school counseling and teaching future school counselors at the graduate-school level.

“Our populations are changing, and there are more and more needs,” she said. “Our district has a 50 percent poverty rate. With that dynamic comes different needs, from getting information on college to brokering food baskets.

“We need a new batch of compassionate people.”

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