The Alaska School Counselor Association has named Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School counselor Sally Donaldson the Alaska counselor of the year.
Donaldson accepted the award on Nov. 18 at the association's professional development conference in Anchorage.
"It's wonderful to see her recognized for the work she does for us every day," Dzantik'i Heeni Principal Barb Mecum said. "I think she is a huge asset. I know kids come to find her often throughout the day and it's for a number of reasons."
"It feels great. It was a total surprise to me and I wasn't prepared for it," Donaldson said. "It's probably the highest honor I could get, to be honored by my peers."
After working as an elementary school counselor in North Carolina for five years, Donaldson moved to Alaska and worked for Gastineau Elementary School in Douglas for two years. She took a job at Dzantik'i Heeni in 1994 and has been there ever since.
Donaldson said working as a middle school counselor has been a rewarding experience.
"It's really fun being in a middle school because this is the time when their lives are very stormy," she said. "It's a pretty challenging age to be around and it's very energizing at the same time."
The best part of a middle school counselor's job is watching the kids grow and to see them learn how to handle difficult situations, Donaldson said.
"I'd like people to recognize the valuable resource that she provides for their children," Mecum said. "Middle school years are very difficult years for kids. With their social or emotional issues this is a significant adult figure they can lean on."
Mecum said Donaldson is a valuable asset for students and teachers alike - working in classrooms teaching health, helping with staff development, and conducting a peer mediation program.
Donaldson said this school year has been a rewarding one on the job because of the School Board's decision to provide three extra counseling positions in the district.
"If we see more kids and can be more involved in their schooling we can make a difference and keep kids in school," she said.
Donaldson said having these extra counselors is a good way to help deal with the district's high dropout rates and hopes the School Board will keep the positions in the future.
Crisis counseling has been Donaldson's main focus before this year because of the number of students under her care, she said. With an extra counselor at the middle school she has been able to branch out and reach students in more ways, she said.
"There was no way I could reach them all. Having that other position makes us available to meet with more families and teachers and kids and be more involved in their lives," Donaldson said.
Although the honor is flattering, Donaldson said Juneau has great counselors in the district.
"I really appreciate the honor and I would like the community to know what an amazing team of counselors they have," she said.