As the counselor for Marion elementary and middle schools, Kris Burkholder has been influencing young lives in the classroom, in small groups and individually for the past nine years.
Whether her task is classroom presentations on academic skills, character development, learning to get along with fellow students or work through personal issues at school or home, Burkholder has made a significant impact, according to Justin Wasmuth, elementary principal.
“Mrs. Burkholder has an impact every day at our school even though it is routine,” he said. “She checks on students, meets with them, has guidance class in every classroom every other week and more.
“She is a great communicator and personable to everyone she has contact with,” he added. “She always has the students in mind when she makes decisions and what impact it could have on them.
“I do not know if there is another counselor in the state who does as much as Mrs. Burkholder. Her job is her passion and we benefit from her being in our district.”
Wasmuth’s affirmation has exceeded the boundaries of USD 408 to include the entire state. Earlier this month, Burkholder was named “Counselor of the Year” by the Kansas Counseling Association.
“It was quite an honor,” Burkholder said. “I knew in December I was nominated, but didn’t know (I was selected) until March 3 when we had the KCA annual convention award luncheon.”
Burkholder is in her ninth year as counselor for the elementary and middle schools, but she started her education career as a high school classroom teacher in 1991-92.
Burkholder took a break from the classroom to earn a master’s degree in counseling from Emporia State University.
“When I was an English teacher at the high school, I would have more and more kids come and talk to me with different issues—problems they may be having with their family, issues or advice about friendships, or whatever,” she said.
“I was happy with teaching, but I started taking counseling classes at the beginning because I wanted to know how to be better prepared to help the kids when they would come and visit with me about something that was bothering them.”
Now in her ninth year as the counselor, part of Burkholder’s day is spent in classrooms teaching students about “classroom guidance.”
“I follow the Kansas counseling standards and curriculum,” she said. “So we have different things that we have to teach in those classes. A lot of that has to do with competence in academics—like study skills, how to study for tests, how to do better in classes.”
Another key aspect of her work is to meet with students who are struggling with emotional or social issues.
“I might go into a classroom and talk about personal relationships and how to get along with friends,” she said.
“Character education” is another foundational topic, particularly among elementary students but also at the middle-school level.
“We talk about what it means to be respectful, responsible and trustworthy, to persevere and all those things,” Burkholder said.
With increasing emphasis on career education, Burkholder talks with students about potential vocational opportunities.
“I work with the whole group exploring different career options, even clear down to the kindergarten and first-grade level,” she said. “We learn about different jobs and some of the different things people do outside of the school.
“That’s a big part of my job as a counselor.”
In addition to classroom teaching, Burkholder works with smaller groups of students, depending on the need.
“I might have a group of students that meets once a week for six to eight weeks,” she said. “I call those my ‘banana-split groups’ for students who have gone through a divorce of their parents or are in the process of divorce.
“The kids get to see that there are other kids going through the same thing,” she said. “We work within the group to try to cope with that.”
Groups that have been formed met to talk about relational aggression, anger management, positive social skills and friendship issues.
“I also meet with a lot of kids individually, when their parents call and ask me to visit with them, or a teacher comes in and asks me to visit with them. Or they come in themselves and ask to visit about something that’s bothering them.”
Early in the school year, Burkholder meets with faculty to explain the district’s bullying prevention program and other support programs. She also provides topics for teachers to incorporate in their weekly classroom meetings.
Burkholder also interacts with agencies, such as foster care, law enforcement and the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
“I don’t think the kids are any different here than at other places I’ve been a counselor,” she said. “I just think our mental health needs are just more out in the open now than they used to be.”
Rewards and challenges
Burkholder said the most rewarding part of her job is simply having the opportunity to help others.
“We do a lot problem solving when I work with kids,” she said. “I’m not telling them what to do, but we’re working through the issue together. Through us visiting, talking, doing activities, they’re coming up with their own solutions to the problems that will help them.
“When they are able to do that, it’s very satisfying for them and very rewarding for me to see.”
Burkholder said counseling has its challenges, too.
“One of the most challenging things is when I have situations where I feel we can make a student’s life better at school, but we’re not able to control some of the things that are happening with them outside of school.
“That’s hard. Sometimes you feel like you can’t do enough to help somebody.”
Burkholder isn’t sure who nominated her for the state award, but the KCA receives nominations from the various regions and divisions within the organization. A committee contacts each nominee’s administrator for input, and the nominee is asked to fill out an application about professional involvements.
“It was quite an honor,” she said, to receive the statewide award. But the accomplishments of her career go far beyond a plaque to hang on the wall.
“Counseling is a very rewarding job,” Burkholder said. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I love what I do.”