2016 School Counselor of the Year: Katherine Pastor-Lorents

February 3-7, 2020 is National School Counseling Week. In recognition of the incredible role that school counselors play, we’re featuring school counselors who have been recognized as School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

What are some of the challenges in school counseling today?
We know our education system is under resourced and we are understaffed. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students to one counselor; however most states are significantly higher than this. We continue to do more with less. Our students are coming to school with a variety of issues; many come with experiences of trauma, homelessness, food insecurity, socio-economic disadvantages, educational disadvantages, social and emotional concerns, gender identity concerns, and addictions, while more of our high school students are working part-time jobs to financially assist their families. Still, many schools across our country are not staffed with school counselors, which, unfortunately, creates another barrier for students. School counselors assist in the development of the whole child by helping to remove the barriers that can inhibit their ability to reach higher. We must continue to advocate for school counselors to ensure that they are accessible, visible, and available in schools in all of our communities.

What effect can school counselors have on students today?
I often talk about the Star Fish Story, adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. My high school student council advisor would tell us this story from time to time. I still have the Starfish Story up in my office and have a slightly different perspective on the story now. When school counselors are able to implement a comprehensive school counseling program in their schools, the positive effect is felt wide and deep, across all grade levels, and reaching every single student in the building. We have the ability to create systemic change, to remove roadblocks for students, and are the common thread throughout a child’s education. “I now think what if there were fewer and fewer starfish stranded on the beach?”

School counselors truly have the potential to help have fewer and fewer starfish stranded on the beach. Our goal is to help our students become confident, self-directed, lifelong learners.

What life lessons have you learned being a school counselor?
The lessons I have learned are: To continue the relentless pursuit of believing that we all have potential and different gifts to offer this world. To find joy and hope in the smallest of things. To always assume positive intent and be intentionally kind. To continue to ask “why”, not to just challenge the status quo, but so we can make sure that everything we do in education is in the best interests of students and is student centered. To continue to look forward, occasionally glancing in the rear-view mirror, but not to lose focus on where I am heading. And one last life lesson, I ask myself and my students daily, is your attitude worth catching?

What one thing do you want your students to know?
I want my students to know that their past does not dictate their future. Always strive to do your best, continue to reach for your dreams, because one day those dreams will turn into your reality.

What supports do you need as a school counselor to serve your students most effectively?
I need collaboration and effective communication between community agencies, families, and other support systems. Some of our communities are even lacking in community agencies which provide outside support to our students and families. We need a system of support in place so that the quality of education can continue to happen in the schools and the quality of care can continue to happen in the communities.

If you could change one thing about school counseling, what would it be?
Across our country, school counselors’ roles would clearly be defined and not vary state to state, district to district, and school to school. ASCA has been instrumental in developing and providing resources to state associations and departments of education. We need consistency and we need school counselors in every single school building in our country.

What did it mean to you to be chosen as the 2016 National School Counselor of the Year?
Receiving an award for the work that you do, day in and day out, is always unexpected. In our careers, most people won’t be publicly recognized for the time, effort, energy, and innovation brought to their job and/or profession. To be recognized as the nation’s school counselor of the year was unbelievable and life changing. I am still doing the same job as in 2016, however I have a wider lens and a broader reach. I feel this award is less about the individual and more about our profession. In a high school counseling office, it is never about one individual, it is about the team. This honor is a reflection on the crucial work that our team at Flagstaff High School has done and continues to do each and every day and school year. We will continue to be agents of change and access, as well as equity champions and a voice for our students.

Katherine is ASCA’s 2016 National School Counselor of the Year. Katherine began serving as the Flagstaff High School (FHS) Counseling Department Chair in the 2008 and was recognized as the 2010 Arizona School Counselor of the Year. Through a data-driven, comprehensive school counseling program, Katherine and her team have received both state and national recognition. She served the Arizona School Counselors Association (AzSCA) as a board member from 2007 to 2017.  Katherine joined the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) board of directors in 2017 and has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Northern Arizona University’s College of Education. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master of Education in Student Affairs and School Counseling from Northern Arizona University.