By John Kline
GOSHEN — Longtime Goshen Middle School counselor Jan Desmarais-Morse has been chosen as one of six finalists for the national 2019 School Counselor of the Year award.
Offered through the American School Counselor Association, the annual award honors the school counseling professionals who devote their careers to serving as advocates for the nation’s students, helping them achieve success in school and in life.
Nominations for the School Counselor of the Year awards program were submitted by the state school counselor associations. A panel selected the finalists based on several criteria, including school counseling innovations, exemplary comprehensive school counseling programs, leadership and advocacy skills and contributions to student advancement, according to a news release.
“It’s pretty cool, but it’s difficult too, because I think there’s an impostor syndrome, and you always feel unworthy when something like this comes your way, especially when you work with other stellar counselors,” Desmarais-Morse said of her nomination. “So it’s exciting, it’s humbling and it’s unexpected.”
Having grown up in southern Maine, Desmarais-Morse graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1983 with a degree in education.
Shortly after graduation, Desmarais-Morse moved to Massachusetts with her husband, James, where she would eventually secure her first teaching job at Eagle Hill School, a private school for students with learning disabilities.
“After I left Eagle Hill, I taught for the Ware Public Schools in Massachusetts. And then after that, there was kind of a light-bulb going off when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for a master’s degree,” Desmarais-Morse said of her introduction to the counseling field. “My supervisor at the time said ‘Jan, did you ever think about going into counseling? Your work with kids is all about relationships, and that seems to be where your strengths lie.’ And it was like this light-bulb went off above my head, and I was like, I think I wanted to do that while I was in high school, but thought it would take too many years of college. So that’s where it started.”
Desmarais-Morse would go on to earn her master of education degree in counselor training from Worcester College in Massachusetts before eventually heading back to Maine in 1989, serving as an elementary school counselor for five years before ultimately making the trip to Indiana in 1993 with her husband and two children, daughter Jordan and son Dylan.
“My husband is a pastor in Bremen. So we made the trip to Bremen in 1993, and then in the fall of 1994 I started working at the Triton School Corp. in Bourbon as a K-8 counselor,” Desmarais-Morse said of the move. “And then in 1997, I came here to Goshen Middle School doing school counseling. So now I am one of two counselors at the Goshen New Tech Middle School, because in our building, we’re one building, but we have two schools — Goshen New Tech Middle School, and then we also have Goshen International Middle School, which is an International Baccalaureate candidate school. So all together this is my 22nd year with Goshen Schools.”
Asked about her time working as a counselor within Goshen Community Schools, Desmarais-Morse’s voice wavered with emotion.
“When I left Maine, I left a job that I really loved. I was working in two schools, and I just loved it, and loved the people I worked with and my administration. And when we had to move here, I said ‘I’m never going to find a job I love as much as I love this one’. And what happened was, I found a job that I love more,” Desmarais-Morse said of the experience. “I truly, truly have been really blessed. When I came to Goshen, I wasn’t truly looking for a job. The opportunity just kind of presented itself, and I decided to apply. And I consider it God’s hand, truly. I just love being here. Our teaching staff is so wonderful and so kid-centered, and our leadership is so strong. I get to be a real school counselor, and I love that.”
And that love appears to be paying off, as last November Desmarais-Morse was named the Indiana Middle School Counselor of the Year by the Indiana School Counselor Association, an honor that would ultimately propel her to the national stage.
“Indiana has a high school, middle school and elementary award that they give out annually. So I received the award in 2017, and then what happens is, they choose one of those three counselors to represent the state, and submit their names to the national level. And so that’s what happened to me,” Desmarais-Morse said of her recent nomination. “There’s a lengthy application that you have to complete for both the Indiana award and the national award, where you have to show how you’ve collaborated, how you’ve shown leadership, how you have used data to address the needs of students, etc. So when I was notified in May that I would be the Indiana representative, I needed to revise and complete another application that would be submitted to the ASCA at the national level. And as part of that, we also had to create a three- to five-minute video just telling about ourselves and our program, and that was a beast to put together.”
Jump forward to today, and Desmarais-Morse finds herself one of six finalist from across the nation competing for the national title of 2019 School Counselor of the Year. The other finalists hail from Milwaukee, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Waianae, Hawaii; Norman, Oklahoma; and Dallas, Texas.
Before the final selection is made, the six finalists will be flown to Alexandria, Virginia, home of the ASCA, where they will each undergo a final round of interviews on Nov. 12.
“So that’s the final step. And then from that pool of six, they choose the winner, and they’ll announce that in late November or early December I believe,” Desmarais-Morse said.
In late January, Desmarais-Morse will travel with the other state representatives to Washington, D.C., where they will participate in special celebratory and educational events. The six finalists will then be honored in an award ceremony and formally recognized at a black-tie gala.
“I’m excited about the prospect of interviewing and just going through that process. I really love a challenge and trying something new, but there’s something fun about the idea of having to talk about what I do, and I’m really excited about that,” Desmarais-Morse said of her final interview. “And I really want to help promote the profession of school counseling. There are some misunderstandings and misconceptions about what we do, and what we’re supposed to be doing, and the responsibilities that get put on our plate sometimes are not always appropriate to the work that we should be doing. So I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to advocate for the profession as well.”