As the recipient of the 2021 Kansas School Counselor of the Year award, Lyndsey Brown, a Maize South High School counselor, exemplifies qualities wanted by the American School Counselor Association.
School counselors don’t just make sure students are on track to graduate and help them with college. Student counselors are also trained mental health professionals, ideally spending 80 percent of their time building relationships with students and offering social and emotional support, the ASCA says.
Each year, the Kansas School Counselor Association selects one counselor based on each counselor’s innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership and advocacy skills and contributions to student achievement.
Four of the last six winners of this honor earned their graduate degrees from K-State.
Brown said she was unaware she won the award when she entered a seemingly normal staff meeting. School staff members surprised her and presented the award. Her family and friends also secretly joined the Zoom call to celebrate.
Brown thanked the other counselors at her school and said she was honored to be recognized alongside the other phenomenal counselors in the state of Kansas.
“It was a really great way to see that our work matters,” Brown said. “The biggest reward of being a school counselor is the small things, like when a student invites you to their graduation party or when you get a text from a person who graduated a couple years ago.”
Next year, Brown will assume a new position as an associate professor at Emporia State University.
Along with her new job, Brown will become the new president of the KSCA in July. Brown said she wants to increase membership in the program and to increase comprehensive programs everywhere in the state of Kansas.
Comprehensive programs were a focus of Brown’s during her tenure at Maize South, Adam Melichar, Brown’s current counseling department head, said.
Melichar said Brown implemented a plethora of programs into the school, such as high-five Friday’s, which allowed community members to greet kids when they walked in the door, letting students make connections with their community.
“There’s an old adage: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, she would try to bring the village here,” Melichar said.
Melichar also spoke highly of Brown’s people skills with students.
“Her ability to empathize with someone and walk a path with them in a hard time is next to none,” Melichar said. “What she does goes well beyond the counseling in the office.”
Melichar shared a story that a pregnant student came to Brown for guidance, with Brown being a mother of four herself.
“(Brown) became one of the strongest resources she had,” Melichar said.
Eventually, when it was time to have the baby, the student wanted Brown around for support.
“It was an honor that she trusted me enough to be in the room for such a big thing,” Brown said. “It was really empowering to see the strength of a young woman.”
Born in Hutchinson, Brown has been around teaching her whole life. Her mother teaches kindergarten and her father is a superintendent.
She spent a lot of time at school before and after class and said she wanted to be a teacher because she wanted to spread her positive experience in school to others.
“I’ve basically been in school forever,” Brown said.
Brown earned her bachelor’s in elementary education, her master’s degree in counseling and student affairs and recently received her doctorate in counselor education and supervision from K-State after defending her dissertation on March 29.
Brown’s doctoral dissertation examined the correlation of student rapport with counselors to student connectedness with the school. Brown said she wanted to show with research that hiring more student counselors causes students to feel more connected to the school.
Judy Hughey, associate professor of special education, counseling and student affairs, served as Brown’s adviser for her dissertation.
“I have seen her professional skills grow as a teacher,” Hughey said. “She will be an amazing counselor educator.”
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Brown said she didn’t know which path to take for her master’s degree until she found more information on school counseling.
“While I was a teacher I realized that there was a lot going on for kids outside of school,” Brown said. “I feel like my passion is building relationships with students.”
After getting her master’s degree, Brown became a counselor at Clay Center Middle School, where she developed a close bond with co-counselor Nick Brummet.
“She guided me and helped my development in the things I still do today at this school,” Brummet said. “Her drive and determination has been a great model for me as a counselor.”
Brummet said Brown has done a great job of advocating for the emotional and social support for students as well as the academic and career side.
He also said he commends her ability to do so many things as a counselor while still raising four children.
“She’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Melichar said. “She has something she wants to do and she does it.”
Brown recently spoke at a Kansas House Education Committee meeting about student-based mental health and the role of a student counselor and its evolution.
“School counselors used to be looked at and called guidance counselors,” Brown said. “Career guidance is part of our job, but a lot of people don’t realize is that we’re mental health professionals as well.”
In her testimony to the education committee, she said counselors often are tasked with administrative duties and, combined with the 431:1 average student-to-counselor ratio, which is well above the recommended 250:1 ratio, counselors don’t have enough time to build rapport with students.
“When the role of school counselors is inconsistent or contradictory, it creates a barrier to the trusting relationship and an impossible mission for school counselors,” Brown said. “School counselors can’t discipline a student, and then the next day try to establish a trusting and non-judgemental relationship.”