McKinney, Texas – “Please excuse the mess,” jokes McKinney High School Counselor Jeff Cranmore, gesturing toward the host of papers arrayed across his desk in busy piles. He drops into his seat as fellow MHS counselor and research partner Jennifer Akins sits down in a chair across from him.
The busyness of Cranmore’s desk offers a clue to the nature of the job of a high school counselor, a job that rarely slows long enough to catch up on filing.
Indeed, Cranmore is responsible for close to 500 students in grades 9–12, as are Akins and the four other counselors who make up the department at MHS. It’s a heavy load, and there is always much to be done.
MHS Counselors Jeff Cranmore and Jennifer Akins received the 2015 Texas Counseling Association Outstanding Research Award in November for their work in the area of college and career planning.
“The role of the school counselor has continued to expand over the years,” says Akins, “and we actually have a variety of responsibilities that includes direct guidance to students—lessons or curriculum that we teach to students over the course of the year—mental health responsibilities for helping students who are in crisis or who might have mental health needs while they’re on campus. And, the third piece is college and career academic planning.”
It’s for their work in the area of college and career planning in particular that Cranmore and Akins have drawn the praise of the Texas Counseling Association. In November, they received the 2015 Texas Counseling Association (TCA) Outstanding Research Award at their annual Professional Growth Conference in Corpus Christi.
“I am so very proud of Jennifer and Jeff, and I consider myself fortunate that I was able to be there when they received this accolade at the awards ceremony in Corpus,” says MISD Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Melinda DeFelice. “They have worked very hard to help our students be successful, and I rely on them to help lead our district.”
Their research is a three-part work in progress.
“We did a couple of different projects,” explains Cranmore. “The first part of the research that has already been published was a guidance lesson that you could do with anyone on researching colleges, trying to find the right major and that type of information. The second one in the works right now talks about finding the right college fit. The final one is a financial aid workshop. It’s really designed so that any teacher could use it. One of the things we’ve learned in talking with students…they just are hungry for information, so we were trying to find ways to get that out effectively to all students.”
That is the heart behind the research, the desire to meet the needs of their students with practical information.
“What do former students wish someone had told them and explained to them when they were in high school? We used that as a jumping off point to try to meet those needs,” says Akins. “The idea is: what is needed? Now, let’s see if we can do something to meet those needs. There is a lot of attention right now on college and career readiness and ways that we can assist students to meet their post secondary goals.”
Cranmore and Akins have been helping students do that for awhile. They each arrived at MHS 10 years ago, Akins transitioning from the role of classroom teacher and Cranmore moving over from the band department at Dowell Middle School. Since then, they’ve accumulated a lengthy resume of credentials, published work and professional accomplishments that extend beyond the campus.
Cranmore holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, has published a number of professional articles, submitted nearly as many for review and, like Akins, is a regular presenter at professional gatherings. Prior to the TCA Research Award he earned alongside Akins this year, he received both the TCA Professional Writing Award and the Outstanding Doctoral Student in Curriculum and Instruction Award from the University of North Texas in 2012.
In addition to her work at MHS, Akins is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a private practice. She designed and taught a summer college and career readiness course for five years at the Texas Governor’s School at the University of North Texas, and in 2005, she was awarded the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented Rising (TAGT) STAR Award.
But, the difference that Cranmore and Akins—and their fellow counselors across the district—make in the lives of students goes far beyond accolades. They are a source of support for students—and anyone else on campus who may need them. They help kids plan for the future and sometimes just to get through the day. They are responsible for bullying prevention, suicide prevention, violence prevention. Yet, much of what they do is never seen by the general public.
“They are most definitely unsung heroes,” says MISD Director of Counseling and Student Support P.J. Holland-Rasor. “It is a tough job. It’s tough, and you have to make sure that you are mentally up for the challenge. Many counselors are very humble. They got into it because they have a big heart and they want to help kids, and they’re really not about tooting their own horn.”
If you ask them what inspires them and keeps them moving forward, invariably the answer comes back to the kids.
“A couple years back, the counselors from the district came up with a motto, a mission statement, and it’s ‘Supporting Others Through Service,’ says Akins. “And, I think that our role is just as it sounds—a lifesaver in the community—and I feel that we’re uniquely positioned to make a difference in people’s lives. I think all of us got into education to make a difference, for the love of our community and to support the future that we’re all moving toward.
“We’re not doing it by ourselves. We have a team with us, and we have counselors across this district that are just like Jeff and I who work hard and do a lot of work behind the scenes that I feel has a huge impact on the district.”
So, it’s nice when a couple of these unsung heroes earn recognition that draws attention to a job that we too often take for granted—and remind us how hard our counselors work for our students. And just how important that work is.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
McKinney Independent School District Press Release