Bridget Helms tells people she became a counselor for her daughter, and stays a counselor for her son. However, becoming the school counselor for Oak Hill Elementary School of Tri-Creek School Corporation was a calling she discovered and answered.
That calling, along with several nominations by fellow school staff, led her to being named the Indiana School Counselor of the Year.
Helms graduated from Davenport University with a degree in accounting, working as a healthcare auditor before taking time off to stay at home to care for her three children: Elisha, 23, AJ, 16, and Emma, 13.
When her oldest daughter was nearing her teen years, she became very problematic, Helms said. And, when her son was born with Asperger Syndrome, she and her husband Aaron had to spend a lot of time trying to find ways to help both children.
“We had to go through a lot of help to help her,” Helms described, working with her daughter. “As a parent I was doing everything I could for her so she would be successful, and knew she was loved and cared for.”
While going through help with her kids, she observed many other children in the same situation - but without the support of others - thus prompting Helms to go back to school.
In 2008, Helms decided to go back to college, graduating from Purdue Northwest and in 2014 she became the counselor for the 500 students at Oak Hill Elementary. Helms said she was shocked and excited to win the counselor award, especially since her role does not fit into the traditional role of a counselor.
Because of her large number of students - larger than the recommended ratio of student to counselor – Helms creatively helps her students with unique programs and lessons.
She teaches in classrooms, but when class time gets tight, she pulls students out for individual and group therapy and runs intervention lessons for children with specific learning needs.
Each year she manages service learning projects, which show the kids how to help others and give back to their community.
“One project is making Christmas cards for children in the hospital,” she explained. “Or around Valentines Day, we write letters and make valentines for vets.”
These projects are successful thanks to the support of other teachers and the Oak Hill Elementary School Principal, Stacey Schwuchow.
“It is very hard to have a program worthwhile and valid without some type of administrator support,” Helms said. “She (Schwuchow) is an amazing administrator and that’s why I’m so successful.”
Over the years, Helms said there has been a growing trend of students with emotional and mental issues, behavioral problems, and children with anxiety. She is challenged by the pressure of parents to counsel their children for issues, that are difficult to address in a school setting, she said.
“There is a growing population of special education children, and unfortunately a lack of parental support,” she said. “We have students who need the support of a doctor, who are not receiving that support.”
Despite the challenges, a strength she has a counselor is being able to rely on her own experience.
“I really want to help the kids and with my background as a mom I understand what parents are going through,” she explained.
As a first generation American and college student, Helms grew up in Demotte, with just her Ireland-born parents and two sisters. Now, living in Wheatfield, Helms and her large family, which includes her five grandchildren, spend a lot of time together, attending church, vacations and every holiday and birthday celebration.
She spends her free time reading books, a passion she likes to share with her kids.
“I tell the students I love to read, but I am a slow reader,” she said. “Sometimes they think they are the only ones with issues and no one understands them, but I tell them, I was not a super student and sometimes it takes me a month to read a book.”