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Local student wins award

Kari Lucin/Daily Globe Lakeyta Potter recently won a scholarship as the Minnesota School Counselors Association Potential School Counselor of the Year.

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington High School graduate and future counselor Lakeyta Potter recently earned the Minnesota School Counselors Association's Potential School Counselor Scholarship.

"School counselors are a huge piece of the school system," Potter said, explaining how they help students with academic needs, career choices and mental health issues.

Potter, the daughter of Mike and Suzie Potter of Worthington, graduated from WHS in 2003 and earned her bachelor's degree in 2007 from Norfolk State University in Virginia.

She completed her master's degree in school counseling May 7 at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Potter spent her 800-hour internship working with Jan Larson, the WHS counselor, and Laurie Knudson, the Prairie Elementary counselor.

"I couldn't have done it myself," Potter said.

She has worked at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, where she started as an Americorps Promise Fellow, for four years, and intends to remain there for at least another year before going into school counseling.

"You figure out what you want to do with your life through experience," Potter said. "A lot of youths aren't being heard, especially students of color."

She has always wanted to work with kids, but her NCIC experience and hours of research led her to look at school counseling specifically.

While Potter was examining the field as a possibility, a co-worker, Carrie Adams, was working on her degree in school counseling and eventually took a counseling position at Worthington Middle School. Adams was able to help answer Potter's questions about the academic program.

Opportunities for school counselors have expanded greatly in the past few decades.

They work with students on an individual basis as well as in small groups or large groups.

Though most people think of them as career and academic counselors, they are also responsible for ensuring students' mental, developmental and social well-being, and though they do not diagnose, counselors are critical in referring students to outside sources of help. They help students find ways to halt bullying, develop social skills, manage anger and cope with grief.

Counselors work with the entire student body, too, Potter noted, not just the at-risk students or the high-achievers. Their objective is to reach every single student, providing a safe environment and helping students make positive choices. They are trusted adults students can connect with.

Counselors can also be first on the chopping block when it's time for budget cuts, because they are not classroom teachers.

"There are not enough school counselors in the state of Minnesota to fill the needs of the students," Potter said, adding that Minnesota is ranked 49th in the nation for its counselor-to-student ratios.