Going above and beyond

Published 7:26 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

It has been just under 12 years since I graduated high school. In the grand scheme of things, that is not very long.

Yet, until this week, it never occurred to me that I don’t know who the guidance counselor at Prattville High School was during my tenure there.

Was it a man? Was it a woman? Was there more than one? I mean, there were 341 people in our senior class and 300 of us graduated. So, clearly there had to be more than one out there.

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And, clearly, it would stand to reason that there had to be somebody working behind the scenes to help some of us get out of there with a diploma.

But here I sit, 12 years later, 30 years old and unable to remember the name, face or even one simple interaction with the person who was allegedly responsible for my guidance.

I don’t remember them helping me choose a class. I typically did those things on my own except when my mom guilted me into taking that typing class that proved to be among the smartest choices I’ve ever made.

I don’t remember a counselor helping me sign up for the ACT. Again, I only did that one time and am pretty sure I didn’t require any help there.

I don’t remember having the assistance of a paid professional in the filling out of college applications or the selecting of universities.

No one sat down with me and talked about my future, what I wanted to do and how I could achieve it. I was essentially on my own in that endeavor.

It is crazy to think that my guidance counselor made so little of an impression that I have no idea who the person even was. That thought is underscored when I watch Demopolis High School’s Debbie Nichols interact with the students she knows so well.

There are 191 of them. And, for the most part, she knows their names, their faces and their situations.

When I asked for a list of students with whom I could do a series of stories, she produced an impressive collection of names bolstered by a brief rundown of what made each student interesting and impressive.

When I was in high school, virtually no one knew me like that. I was involved. I was a section leader in the band and the editor of the high school newspaper and yet, I am pretty confident my guidance counselor knew as little about me as I did about him or her.

That’s just not the case with Debbie Nichols. She cares about the students around her. She hangs published articles and pictures of them on the walls outside her office. Inside the office is a shrine to students past and present whose lives she has impacted as countless adolescents have brought her senior portraits and cap and gown pictures. And, in true Debbie Nichols fashion, she has cherished each one.

Whether it is making sure they get signed up for the ACT or helping them get collegiate and scholarship applications in on time, she is involved with her students and their efforts to better themselves.

Then there are the things she would prefer people not know about. The pep talks. The extensions of kindness. The things that separate her from most other adult voices continually clamoring around in the minds of young people.

Those things are vitally important as they are what give her the credibility with her students, providing them the constant reminder that she indeed cares for their well-being beyond the capacity of what is outlined in her job.

Aside from the occasional invested teacher, I didn’t have much of that in high school. And I certainly could have used it.

The fact is that children need more than scholarships and ACT scores in order to succeed in life. While it is important that their guidance counselor provides those things to them, students should expect more from that office. They need more. They need guidance. They need counsel.

Debbie Nichols gets that. It’s what makes her good at her job and then some. It’s part of what makes Demopolis High School the appealing institution that it is.