When students are asked what school counselor Kelly Links does, their answer is simple: “She helps kids.” Links, who works at PS 10 in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, has loved helping kids all her life, she says, and now she’s “found a way to get paid for it.”
Links was one of 26 school counselors honored at the 33rd annual UFT-DOE School Counselor Recognition Day Awards Ceremony on May 31 at the UFT’s Brooklyn borough office. The counselors gathered with their families and friends to hear speakers, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, celebrate their accomplishments and bask in the glow of well-deserved recognition.
“This ceremony is our way of saying thank you,” said School Counselors Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson. Thompson said she regularly sees counselors “go above and beyond in maintaining a balance behind the scenes and holding the entire school together.” It’s important to “appreciate the efforts they make on a daily basis.”
Vivian Torres of Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, said as a counselor she’s “always recognizing everyone else, especially students” so it was “a real honor” to have the spotlight turned in her direction.
Angelina Licata, a school counselor at Ralph R. McKee CTE HS in the St. George section of Staten Island, felt “overwhelmed with emotion” when receiving her plaque. “It felt great to be recognized,” she said, and to know “someone took notice of all the hard work” she does.
Presenters read from principals’ nominations, which shared details about counselors’ accomplishments and strengths. Links said hearing all the anecdotes about her colleagues’ work made her realize “the little things” she does “at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday are not overlooked.”
The stories also highlighted the broad scope of work counselors perform. Licata, for instance, worked on a staff training initiative with students in her school’s gay-straight alliance to “bring awareness to teachers and students” and “change the culture of the school” to be more accepting.
Torres said her high school students have “a lot of needs — economic, academic and family challenges.” She said she works to provide basic needs for her students: “a pencil, a cup, food, anything, so they can concentrate in the classroom.”
“We play every single role,” said honoree Denise Jackson-Gordon, a school counselor at Pathways to Graduation in Queens, “to reinforce what teachers teach.”
As counselors held hands with their loved ones in the audience and some held their own children in their laps, Mulgrew addressed them. “You became a counselor because there’s something inside of you that says you want to make a difference in a child’s life,” he said. “You are changing children’s lives for the better.”
The UFT honorees