COLUMBUS — Angie Kruse knows her career isn’t high on most people's list of choices.
“People don’t say they want to grow up to be a school counselor,” Kruse said.
Neither did she.
Initially, the Blue Hill native earned a degree in fitness and leisure management with the goal of running her own health club. After spending time at a hospital in Kearney where she worked with juveniles, she felt the need to help children, particularly in the area of special education, so she went back to school to pursue a degree in that field.
Kruse was a special education teacher for seven years in Schuyler and at West Park Elementary School in Columbus. Still, she wasn’t quite satisfied.
“All that time I thought I wanted something else. I felt like I needed to do something else,” Kruse said.
She decided to become a school counselor, a position that provides the opportunities she was looking for.
Kruse has been a counselor at Columbus Middle School since 2005 and was recently named middle school counselor of the year by the Nebraska School Counselor Association.
The 46-year-old said the honor comes from a team effort along with the school's two other counselors, Kim Shevlin and Jared Johnson. The three work together to help CMS students succeed.
The position has evolved over time.
“Counselors are changing just like your librarian used to be a librarian and now they are media specialists and how we used to have a home ec teacher and now we have a family and consumer science teacher,” Kruse said. “We are changing with the times. We are called school counselors now. We are not called guidance counselors.”
Gone are the days when the main duty of a counselor was assisting students with their class schedules.
Today a counselor wears many hats while helping students with their social and emotional needs.
Kruse is assigned as the counselor for the entire sixth-grade class of 283 students plus 70 fifth-graders. She touches base with each student by holding small-group lunches. That contact builds a level of trust and comfort.
“Building trust is huge. You have to let them know what is said inside these walls is between you and me, unless someone is being hurt or harmed, then I have to report it,” Kruse said.
Bonds are also formed inside the classroom.
Nine times throughout the school year, counselors at CMS teach lessons on a variety of topics, such as identifying bullying. That is a shift from the role school counselors used to play when they sat in their office and helped students decide whether or not to pursue college.
That is, however, still part of the job.
Informing students about postsecondary education is something Kruse helped bring to the middle school. Six or seven years ago, she introduced the idea of taking eighth-graders on college visits. That has now been incorporated into the annual schedule.
Kruse, who has three children, Colin, Sara and Eli, with her husband Mike, said she never has a typical workday because the needs of each student vary. She can go from teaching lessons in a classroom to working with a student in her office to consulting with the school psychologist or a social worker.
The issues she helps students work through range from building friendships to serious problems at home and other obstacles that impact their ability to learn.
“The teachers here make sure they are able to understand math and science, but it is really hard to get kids to concentrate when their basic needs aren’t being met,” Kruse said.
Helping students address those issues is gratifying work.
“The most rewarding part is seeing kids figure it out,” Kruse said.