'She's built connections and bridges': Parkside counselor to be recognized for student advocacy

Nov. 2—BAILEYTON — It has been roughly a decade since Kim Crumbley "fell into" her role as a counselor with Cullman County Schools. During those 10 years, through the tireless dedication with which she advocates for and builds relationships with students, the Parkside Elementary counselor has also fallen in love with her career. Later this month, she will be recognized for her work with two separate distinguished awards — the Alabama School Counseling Program of Distinction Award and the Elementary Counselor of the Year Award.

The very nature of her role as a counselor has changed dramatically since Crumbley first moved into the position after spending eight years as a teacher. Mental health issues have become much more prominent even at the elementary levels. These issues were amplified by the isolation that students endured over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Crumbley's supervisor, Learning Support Specialist Karen Pinion — who will also be receiving the award of Coordinator of the Year and who nominated Crumbley for the Elementary Counselor of the Year award — said that the role of a school counselor has become more all-encompassing.

"School counseling has transitioned significantly in our lifetime, even within the last 20 or so years. School counselors, in essence, are much more than just counselors — they really are an instructional leader within our schools. There's really not any pot that they don't have their hand in. They've grown significantly from what we would traditionally think of what a school counselors does," Pinion said.

Crumbley said that while it wasn't the easiest transition, the stronger emphasis placed on mental health by the CCBOE administration prior to the pandemic was a godsend for students returning to the classroom. The addition of four social workers, having Pinion oversee the individual school counselors, and partnerships with mental health experts, have allowed Crumbley the freedom to focus on addressing the individual needs of her students, which in turn she said allows the teachers to focus on educating.

"I don't think I could do my job without these people. We've never taken this [mental health] lightly. I don't say this lightly, but to work in a school system where the program for school counseling was stronger than I've ever seen anywhere — it was very intentional, and I mean it was hard. We were asked as school counselors to do some tough things, but looking back, it was a good thing," Crumbley said. "Looking back you pay the price up front to already have these things in place."

Richard Orr, who served as Parkside principal for 11 years before his current role as CCBOE, Assistant Superintendent,said the positivity Crumbley exudes in times of stress and tragedy was infectious, and a crucial element in their ability to face difficult situations.

"I would never want to be in a school again without Kim Crumbley by my side," Orr said. "When they gave me Kim full-time it was the biggest change in our building. The energy and light that she brings to the place — her personality shines so brightly that when people were having a tough day, she changed it. That goes for the teachers, the students, even the parents that would come in if they were mad or struggling. She works so incredibly hard to advocate for resources for the kids, and because of her personality it opens the doors that other people might not have opened for them. She's built connections and bridges that provide those resources for our kids."

Crumbley said that she is honored to be receiving the awards, but that to her they are simply a happy bonus compared to the sense of fulfillment she is rewarded with on a daily basis by serving the students in her school.

"Either I have made a connection with them, or I have advocated for a relationship with somebody else that has changed their life. But, I want somebody to see that child, and that be what heals that brokenness that we see inside of our students, whether it's their anxiety or depression or whatever," Crumbley said.

Pinion agrees that it's that outlook that led to her nomination as the CCBOE's first Elementary Counselor of the Year.

"At the end of the day awards are great, and we are proud of them and Kim, but the kids of Parkside know that they have a counselor that loves and supports them dearly. and that's what we want.