West Elementary’s Shaddix honored at ASDE meeting after being named Alabama School Counselor of the Year


Elizabeth Shaddix (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN – West Elementary School Guidance Counselor Elizabeth Shaddix received statewide recognition earlier this year when she was named 2019 Alabama School Counselor of the Year by the Alabama School Counselor Association. On Thursday, she was recognized at a meeting of the Alabama State Board of Education. She also represented Cullman City Schools and Alabama in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 1, where she was honored at a black-tie gala along with other top counselors from across the country.

Shaddix has worked for 12 years at West Elementary School, three of those as a classroom teacher before transitioning to counseling.

The Tribune sat down with Shaddix in January to discuss her work as an elementary counselor. 

Shaddix began, “The rules have shifted a good bit since we were in school as to what an elementary counselor does. Here we do a little bit of everything. We have a lot of needs here as far as food bags, Christmas for kids, and things like that. We do individual counseling, small group counseling and whole group counseling depending on what our needs are. We are seeing a huge rise in mental health issues, so I have a group that I meet with now and we work on social skills. That group will finish in a few weeks. Then we will pull a group of kids who have recently lost a parent or grandparent for a grief group. I just do whatever is needed. Like today, we met with our problem solving group. A teacher might say, I am struggling with a kid right now. She needs clothes or she might not have a jacket. Her power has been turned off. Those types of things. We then figure out ways to help the teacher and that student.”

She continued, “We try to do more proactive teaching lessons. Things like being successful in school, bullying and other issues. Last week, we worked with a group on how to deal with stress in healthy ways.”

Shaddix said she enjoyed her time in the classroom as well as being a counselor now.

When asked which part she found the most rewarding, she said, “Of all of it, I enjoy my small groups the most because it’s flexible. It’s just me and a couple of kids and I believe I see the most difference with my small groups. They seem to bond with each other and maybe make friends within the group. I always see the most dividends paid out when we invest in the small groups. It’s just me and maybe five other kids sitting in the floor playing a board game. You would be surprised how many kids have never sat down and had anyone talk or play Candyland or Uno with them. It helps those that are shy. We had a Christmas party with my little social group. They all talked and felt part of something. That’s what I enjoy. I’d say it’s my favorite part of the whole thing.”

Said Shaddix, “A big part of our job is with special education. We help line up all the processes and paperwork. We use something called 504 and that’s also with disabilities. For example, if you are diabetic and you needed to have extra time on your class work, we would help you with that. We also have a mentor program here through LINK. We have community members come in and meet with and help our kids.”

The selection process for Counselor of the Year began with Shaddix being nominated by another counselor in the school system. Shaddix then submitted paperwork about the different programs and activities the school provides and are facilitated at the school. She also submitted her newsletter and letters written by friends, coworkers and community partners. 

One of those partners is First United Methodist Church Cullman, which provides knapsacks, Christmas gifts, rides after school and so much more.

West Elementary Secretary LaQuita Dixon said, “We cannot say enough good things about First United Methodist. They should be praised for what all they do in this community. It’s not about a church or religion.”

Shaddix added, “They never say no. They give our kids food every week. Big bags of food. They sponsor our knapsack kids (through the Knapsacks for Kids program), Christmas, do loads of laundry, everything. We could not do what we do without First United Methodist Church.”

She continued, “I enjoy our community partners. We have Rob Werner as a mentor. We’ve always had a good relationship with the community. If we need anything, I just come in here and tell LaQuita and we find out who to call.”

At West Elementary, 43 percent of the students receive free and reduced-price lunches. Many of the students walk to school. Shaddix identified free after-school programs and transportation as two of the biggest needs for her students.

She said, “We need places for kids to go after school to play or get help with homework.”

Another need is volunteers for the West Elementary mentor program. Shaddix mentioned a handful of men who volunteer and the need for more, saying, “If anything, I hope people reading this will consider mentoring. The mentors come down maybe twice every couple of weeks. They bring the student lunch, read a book, play a game, help with homework or just talk. We like for a mentor to follow a student from second through sixth grade.”

Those interested in mentoring can contact the West Elementary office for an application. You must be able to pass a background screening. 

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