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Maine school counselor recognized for being heart of her school

Jennifer Simmons was recently honored by MSAD 52 for her dedication to Greene Central School.

GREENE, Maine — School counselors are trained to help students as young as preschool to 12th grade to reach their goals by addressing academic, career development, emotional, and social challenges. 

But as the need to support kids with mental health and social services increases, a school counselor at Greene Central School is being recognized for going above and beyond the walls of her campus.

Inside a second-grade classroom, school counselor Jennifer Simmons goes over breathing exercises to help a group of students calm and regulate their bodies before a test. 

"You could take a deep breath right at your desk and no one would know," Simmons told the class. 

These are skills Simmons started teaching students daily from pre-school on—tools that help a number of students in all aspects of their lives.

"She helps me calm me down when I get really angry at homework, and when I have problems with friends she helps me see other points of view," Kaylei Ouellette, a 5th grader, explained. 

"She really helps in rough times and stuff, and it's really helpful," 4th grader Isaak Barry said. 

For nearly 25 years, Simmons has worked behind the scenes to support the school's more than 350 students and staff, from counseling students one-on-one, teaching coping skills, and connecting students and their families to outside social service agencies.

Often she is the first person kids reach out to when they are struggling with mental health issues. 

"We have that trust knowing that we are on their side, knowing we are there for them," Simmons added. 

When tragedy hits any aspect of the school community, Simmons springs into action from the grieving process to helping staff and students begin the healing journey.

"A lot of what school counselors do people don't see, they see the teaching, the guidance lessons, the hours that we spend," Simmons said. 

Keeping her finger on the heartbeat of this school was recognized last month by Maine School Administrative School Unit #52. Simmons received the Patience W. Norman Prize for Teacher Excellence. 

It's the first time the annual honor was presented to a mental health professional, recognizing the important and expanding role of school counselors. 

National experts say coming out of the pandemic, kids are more stressed than ever. Simmons said that over the past several years, she has seen an increase in the need to support students and help them make connections in the community and improve core relationships. 

"We want every student here to have somebody in the building that is their connected person," Simmons explained. 

Connections and skills that will help these kids succeed over their lifetime. 

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