By JENNIFER MEIER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
All over the walls of counselor Kori Cripe’s office at Heritage Intermediate School are quotes — some inspiring and thought-provoking, others funny or heartfelt.
“Words have a lot of meaning,” Cripe said. “They touch hearts, and kids know that. Even the words that parents say when they drop off their kids at school can make the student’s day.”
The words on the walls in her comfortable, homey office aren’t empty ones. Cripe tries to live them every day. The impact that has made on students, parents and staff earned Cripe the Exemplary Elementary School Counselor of the Year award from the Indiana School Counselor Association.
Cripe was nominated by HIS Assistant Principal Jennifer Raycroft and was informed in October that she had been chosen for the highest honor.
“I was humbled and totally surprised,” Cripe said. “I had no idea that I was even nominated.”
Cripe, HIS Principal Kari Dyer, Cripe’s husband Troy and her parents attended an awards and recognition luncheon at the November 2 ISCA Conference in Indianapolis.
Raycroft, who was on maternity leave and could not attend the conference, wrote in her nomination, “Kori is a jack of all trades. Yet, what I feel is her greatest strength is her ability to build relationships. Kori has her finger on the ‘pulse of the school’ helping keep morale high by staying connected with staff. She does the little things to make people feel appreciated. She has excellent communication skills and is able to work collaboratively with parents as well as her students. She shares with them in an honest, warm and gentle manner. Kori puts parents at ease and they know that she cares about their child.”
Principal Dyer echoed those statements.
“She is so selfless,” Dyer said. “Kori is such a support to students, staff and parents and she really appreciates the people around her. She is a great listener and problem-solver. She puts all our needs before her own. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without her.”
During her five years at HIS, Cripe has put into place several programs including the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, serving as the district-wide bullying prevention coordinator; Identity Day; Diversity Week; and the Third Grade Transition Field Trip.
The best part about being an elementary school counselor says Cripe is getting to strategize different options with the students as they deal with the ins and outs of friendship, or issues at home or with bullying.
“The most difficult part of the job for me is leaving my work at work,” Cripe said. “It’s hard not to take home the situations. And it’s heartbreaking not be able to fix things — but I can help them deal with it and work through it.”
Problems range from parent’s divorce, bullying and cyberbullying to the constant struggle of students needing to feel included, or wanting to fit in with their peers.
Cripe says she works with parents and staff as often as she works with children. Helping others has long been her desire.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was much younger,” Cripe said.
Then an accident during her high school years changed her focus toward helping people.
“I broke my back in a fall from a horse,” Cripe said. “I spent a month in the hospital and almost a year wearing a brace. What I really appreciated about the experience was the doctors and nurses taking the time to talk to me and encourage me,” Cripe said. “That meant more to me than the physical care.”
Cripe earned her bachelor of nursing from Goshen College and went to work at Goshen Hospital. She found she did a lot of counseling along with the physical care. Later she spent six years as the school nurse at York Elementary in the Middlebury school system.
After receiving her masters in education from Indiana University in South Bend, Cripe worked as a school counselor at Orchardview Elementary for one year before transferring to HIS.
“I changed professions because I like a challenge and enjoyed the time I could spend with kids listening to their concerns and helping them brainstorm solutions to their problems,” Cripe said. “Every day is totally different.”
Her own therapy, she says, come from her first love — animals.
“We have horses and mini-donkeys at home,” Cripe said. “I come home from work and head out to the barn — it’s very therapeutic for me.”
And sometimes she brings the barn to school.
“Hands-on therapy with animals is great for the kids,” Cripe said. “I’ve brought the mini-donkeys in before and we have a guinea pig, Professor Sparkles, here at the school.”
Animals and one-on-one time spent with students, parents and staff are as important to Cripe as the programs she’s implemented.
“I strive for my programming to encourage positive self esteem growth,” Cripe said. “When a child has self-confidence they can achieve what they put their minds to but also can cope with the everyday struggles of life. I have been taught by many wonderful mentors along way that a child’s self confidence grows with a strong positive relationship with parents, grandparents and school staff.”
Her philosophy boils down to words she keeps very close to her heart.
“I strive to be the kind of counselor that I would want to have if I was a student,” she said.
And while that quote is not on her office wall, there is one written by a 10-year-old and tacked to the bulletin board above her desk. It says in a humorous way that she is fulfilling that goal — “You stand out like a strawberry in a bowl full of peas.”