As a college student, Sheryl Cline — a counselor at Linn-Mar High School for ninth- and 10th-graders — said she knew she wanted to work in a field related to mental health, but never imagined she’d end up working with high school students.
“I never thought that I’d be in education,” she said. “I had teachers in high school that told me, ‘You’d be a great teacher,’ and I looked at them and said, ‘You’re crazy. Why would I want to do that?’ ”
But working with adolescents as they begin to establish their identities and find their place socially and emotionally and prepare to transition from high school to college packs more of a reward than she could have imagined, Cline said.
“The kids are awesome,” she said. “Some days they might drive me crazy, but for the most part we do OK, and it’s really neat to work with them and get to see them figure out who they are and what they want to do and grow into those roles.”
Cline, 35, got her bachelor’s in psychology from Mount Mercy University.
Soon after, she was working in a clinical setting for a nonprofit and focusing on behavioral health intervention services.
“So I was mostly doing individual or family, in-home counseling working mostly with adolescents who suffered from significant emotional or behavioral problems,” she said. “And it was really hard work. It was really demanding. I was on call a lot of the time because we also did crisis counseling, so there really wasn’t any downtime where I could really take a breath and regroup, and I felt like I was starting to burn out.”
Moreover, Cline said she felt overwhelmed by the seriousness of the situations some of her clients were dealing with.
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“I felt like I didn’t quite have the training to be as effective as I wanted to be with them, just because I was very inexperienced at that time,” she said. “And as a young adult and new counselor, I was handling some pretty big issues, so, I felt like I needed to continue my education.”
Ultimately, Cline said she determined the clinical setting was not the right fit and went back to school, earning a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Iowa.
This past week, Cline was named Counselor of the Year by the Iowa Association for College Admission Counseling.
Cline’s peers nominated her for the award, which recognizes her passion, dedication and leadership skills, as well as her ability to collaborate and work as part of a team.
The award, she said, came as a surprise because she was nominated alongside some very experienced and beloved school counselors in the region.
“It really means a lot to me,” she said. “I have a hard time accepting the accolades just because I feel like I do it for the kids, and I really, this is my life. I don’t have kids of my own, so my kids at school are so special to me and I’m doing it for them. They’re the reason that I have a career at all, and so it’s very cool to be recognized that way.”
Over the past few months, as coronavirus spread through the state shutting down schools and businesses, Cline said she and the team of counselors at Linn-Mar High School have been forced to adapt and find news ways to connect with students.
And, as president of the Iowa School Counselor Association, Cline has been on the front lines when it comes to providing support to school counselors across the state as they and their students adjust to their new realities.
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“It’s been something that we’ve all had to change and adapt to, and for me, as the president of the school counselor association, it’s important to me to be a leader and help counselors connect with each other and come up with ideas for how to support our students in this new normal,” she said. “It’s important to me to be a leader. Part of my passion as a professional is to help other professionals in the field to do their best and learn about best practices and how to support their students. And I don’t think we can do that without supporting each other.”
Additionally, Cline said, she feels lucky to be working with “such a dedicated team of school counselors at Linn-Mar.
“There are eight of us that work together ... (including) two at-risk counselors that work with our alternative high school and then some of those academically at-risk kids in our building,” she said. “And really, we all work together to support our students, and I couldn’t do this without that support. I get to work with a group of seven other professionals that all have the same goals in mind for our students ... and it’s awesome to have that support. So, yeah, it’s a good place to be.”
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