Educator Spotlight: The Ludington elementary counselors. 

January 23, 2022

Educator Spotlight: The Ludington elementary counselors. 

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

LUDINGTON – In the last few weeks, Ludington Area School District has opened a new pre-kindergarten through fifth grade building and blended students and staff together under that one roof. Before the merge, each school had a counselor present for part of the school day. Beth Gunsell worked part time at Lakeview Elementary and part time at Franklin Elementary and Michelle Kiessel worked at Foster Elementary. Now, the two are both present at the new elementary school and get to combine services to serve all the students.

“I have been working with Ludington Area Schools for four years,” Gunsell said. “Prior to working for LASD, I worked for a number of years at West Michigan Community Mental Heath.”

Kiessel was a an at-risk specialist/home liaison with the school district prior to becoming a counselor. Prior to that, she worked as a children’s case manager with West Michigan Community Mental Health, an outreach specialist with Girl Scouts of MI Shore to Shore, a self-sufficiency specialist with TrueNorth Community Services, and an out-of-school-time coordinator with Oaktree Academy. 

Michelle Kiessel

“It was not until starting at Foster Elementary in 2016, however, that I truly found my home,” Kiessel said. “My past experience and education set me up perfectly to serve students in grades third through fifth.”

Gunsell graduated from Ludington High School and Kiessel graduated from Shelby High School, and both have degrees in fields related to working with children and at-risk youth.With both of them growing up and working in different jobs in the area, they both bring a lot of knowledge to students, staff and families to assist them in many different areas.

“I brought a knowledge of the community’s resources, a mental health background, and direct experience guiding students in independent learning, and I gained the camaraderie of an amazing community of like-minded educators who have become my closest friends and family,” Kiessel said. “I am currently in my sixth year in this position and going strong.”

Along with knowledge of the resources inside and outside of school that students might need, Gunsell and Kiessel are big advocates for mental health and awareness of mental health issues in all ages.

“As a school counselor, I feel strongly about the importance of mental health for our children and their families,” Gunsell said. “In order for a child to be successful in school, we need to make sure their mental health needs are met.”

Kiessel added, “Our job is to help address a student’s barriers to academic success. When a student comes to school hungry, they cannot learn. When a student comes to school not knowing if they have a house to go home to after school, they cannot learn. When a student comes to school with anxiety, they cannot learn. When a student comes to school feeling that they do not belong, they cannot learn.

These are real life issues, and there are no quick solutions, but with help of community partners like Family Link, Lakeshore Food 4 Kids, TrueNorth Community Services, West Michigan Community Mental Health, and others we can begin to help families and students take steps toward stability.”

Working with students and their families are important aspects of the job, both agreed.

“Some of my favorite things working in education are interacting with the children, not only in the school setting but within the community,” Gunsell said. “I also enjoy getting to know their families.”

Kiessel agreed, “My favorite thing about working in education is the kids. They are the only reason I do this. Aside from my regular duties, I enjoy connecting with all students in the cafeteria and at dismissal times.”

Beth Gunsell

Since schools have become a lot more about students’ entire makeup, not just their educational well-being, staff have taken on many roles besides just teaching and assisting students. In many school environments, teachers and staff play the roles of parent, counselor, disciplinarian, role model, etc. and with mental health issues becoming more prevalent in all ages, school counselors are just part of the whole picture of people creating safe and stable environments for school-aged children. Gunsell and Kiessel, both encourage individuals who want to help others to seek out jobs in the mental health fields.

“My advice would be to be a strong advocate for children and their families,” Gunsell stated. “Also, building strong, non-judgmental relationships is critical for their success.”

Kiessel agreed, “This is not easy work, but it is an incredibly fulfilling profession for someone with stamina, a good sense of humor, and a desire to make an impact. I would highly recommend shadowing a teacher or a counselor for just one day. If you are not scared away, this is the job for you. Everyday is a new adventure. Some days are tough, but then you might receive a note from a student thanking you for listening to them when know one else would, and that can keep you going for months. At the end of each day, I go to sleep knowing that I am participating in something greater than myself. I know that the work we do makes a difference, and I am grateful to spend my life doing it. I hope other young professionals with a passion for connection will join us.”

Getting settled in the new building has just been the first step for the counselors as they begin to work together more and develop more relationships in and outside of the school.

“It has been a whirlwind, and I don’t think either one of us has had the opportunity to figure this out quite yet between snow days and illnesses,” Kiessel said. “I foresee us connecting on larger projects such as the Giving Tree and Lakeshore Food 4 Kids, while covering for each other when one of us has to be out of the building. We have always connected with each other to best support families across the elementary buildings, as we do with the counselors at the middle school and high school. In the past, I have always been a bit of an island since no one else in the building had the same job as me, and I look forward to having the support of another counselor right in the same building.”

“The new building is great,” Gunsell said. “We work very well together and continue to work out the kinks as they present themselves. Michelle Kiessel and I have always had a great relationship with wonderful communication. Being in the same building makes communication so much easier.”

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