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N.C. Counselor of the Year: Caring for the whole child

Page Gambill Pfister (M.Ed. ’09) had always loved working with children. Her earliest jobs were as a camp counselor and babysitter. So when she began considering careers, teaching seemed to be the perfect fit.

However, after a year of teaching kindergarten, Pfister noticed some of her students were starting school with obstacles. Some came to school hungry, or faced other family problems that threatened their academic success. She decided to become a counselor so she could help students deal with those issues and enrolled in the UNC School of Education to earn her master’s degree in School Counseling.

Carolina’s School Counseling Program

The School Counseling Master of Education is a full-time, 14-month program based on innovative Strengths-Based School Counseling framework pioneered by the program’s faculty members. Students join a tightly knit cohort and complete a year-long school counseling practicum/internship in a public school. Learn more!

She’s making an impact that’s getting noticed. In November, the N.C. School Counselor Association recognized her work when it named her 2017 N.C. School Counselor of the Year. The award honors the outstanding work of school counseling professionals.

Pfister is a school counselor at Friendship Elementary School in Davidson County. She received her undergraduate degrees in Elementary Education and Spanish from UNC-Wilmington. She is in her ninth year as a counselor.

She said she learned the true role of a school counselor at Carolina’s School of Education.

“I learned of the value of consultation and collaboration,” Pfister said. “I also learned how to begin to think about data collection and advocating for my role as a school counselor. I gained very vital basic counseling skills to be used in individual counseling sessions, how to structure and facilitate effective group counseling and facilitate classroom guidance lessons that use the N.C. Guidance Essential Standards and the national model.”

Making a difference

Pfister said she loves leaving her job every day knowing she has made a difference in a student’s life. Sometimes that involves celebrating a student who she has helped reach a big goal.

Other times, it simply involves smiling and waving to a student in the hallway, and having that student write her a card the next day saying they loved seeing her smile at them.

“There’s never a day that I feel like we should leave without having made an impact somewhere,” Pfister said.

Pfister’s principal at the time, Beth Goins, nominated her for the award. In her recommendation letter, Goins called Pfister a “highly productive, highly loved, and highly effective” school counselor.

“There is not an area of our school that I can think of where she does not make a positive impact,” Goins wrote. “Literally, she gets around our building and touches so many people every day! She is high- energy, sunshine, and savvy. Mrs. Pfister supports, teaches, mentors, and interacts with the whole child … as well as the whole adult.”

Using data to help students

At Friendship, Pfister uses data about students who are struggling to create small groups to work with them based on their academic and emotional needs. She interacts with students on all levels, including serving as coach of the school’s running club and leader of its Wonder Book Club.

At the district level, she is a member of the Multi-Tiered System of Support team, which reviews attendance and behavior data for the system.

Pfister said the award has also given her the opportunity to advocate for her profession.

There are so many facets to a school counselor’s job, she said. Pfister said the job has shifted from that of a guidance counselor, who primarily helped students navigate their paths to college or choose a vocation.

No longer do counselors work in isolation, Pfister said. They work with parents and others in the community to help meet all a student’s needs.

“Now, we’re trying to help everybody see that we do use data and, in addition, that we can make a difference, not only with careers but also with personal and social (aspects),” Pfister said. “We also think about the academic piece.”

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By Jonnelle Davis