The Ashland Beacon
When it came time for school to start back this year, things looked a little different. Teachers who have been teaching for years suddenly found themselves back on the same level as teachers who were starting their very first year. Heather Wells, the school counselor at Ponderosa Elementary, wanted to make a difference for the teachers in the school at the beginning of the year and reached out to local businesses for help.
Wells contacted local businesses in the area explaining that she wanted to create gift bags to give to the teachers at Ponderosa Elementary before the start of the school year. She said that “I just want to give them something positive through all this craziness. I wanted them to feel special and important.” Wells said that she was “so humbled by the response” that she got from local businesses in their support of the teachers.
When Wells began to pick up the bags, “I was blown away by everything that the businesses had contributed to the teachers at Ponderosa Elementary. As a counselor, part of what I do is build that community support with our school and our staff” and “if they needed anything from us, then we would do the same.”
“It felt so special,” Wells continued, “to be able to post a shout out to those local businesses on our social media.” She said that “some of our teachers didn’t even know that they were around so it gave awareness to the business as well. We all kind of work together.”
Ponderosa Elementary has 49 staff members including all custodial, cafeteria, teachers, and office staff and four teachers that are teaching the virtual academy. Wells was able to present a bag to “every single person in our building and that was so rewarding to be able to do.” She explained that sometimes people lose sight of some of the people working behind the scenes but she calls them the “unsung heroes of the building.”
Some of the businesses that Wells reached out to chose grade levels and sponsored the teachers that they were familiar with that taught a particular grade. Wells says that “once I saw what businesses picked a grade level or a specific area,” she was able to organize the bags of the people that were left. She numbered the leftover bags and had each staff choose a number. During the (outdoor) ceremony where the staff members were presented with their bags, Wells called a number and the staff member was able to come and choose a bag.
Ponderosa Elementary has three male staff members. Wells created their bags and then “kept them to the side” away from the rest of the bags. Wells said she didn’t think that they “would want some of the things that businesses donated to women.”
Inside the bags were items such as pens, notebooks, candy, gift cards from restaurants, candles, hand sanitizer, and masks which Wells refers to as “our new fashion statement.” Wells said that she did not look in all of the bags because businesses that sponsored bags themselves were responsible for packaging the gift bags. Wells says that “a lot of them did it so nicely that I didn’t want to mess them up.”
Wells also spent this last week at a conference in Lexington held by the Kentucky School Counselors Association. During this conference, Wells was presented with the “Pamela Gabbard Emerging Leader Award.” Wells said that about a week before the conference, she got a message telling her that she had won the award. She said that her reaction was “this isn’t happening! I’m just a second year counselor and I’m a counselor in the middle of COVID. Are you sure?” The award is for new counselors that the K.S.C.A. “sees making an impact and changing the lives of their staff and students and community and advocating for school counselors.”
“It is such an honor,” Wells said. “Even being new, I wanted to have people see it that way” and it was “very humbling” that they were able to recognize that she was still trying to make a difference during COVID.