WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama honored the 2016 school counselor of the year Thursday, who said post-secondary education should be available and affordable for all students.
Katherine Pastor, a counselor of Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff, Ariz., received the 2016 School Counselor award at the White House. She was one of six finalists and 27 semi-finalists.
Pastor spoke about one of her students who was able to go through post-secondary education – an opportunity for students to receive college credits for free while attending high school. He was a first-generation college student who got the chance to go to college while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in his junior and senior year.
“He is now attending Northern Arizona University and double majoring in chemistry and criminal justice, and is getting ready to apply to medical school,” Pastor said.
Obama acknowledged Pastor for creating a college application completion day at Flagstaff high school that included filling out financial aid forms, and for building a new career and counseling center for students.
Obama commended Pastor for continuing her duties despite the trouble she faced in 2013, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo surgery. Pastor went through rehab to learn how to walk and talk again.
Students from Flagstaff High School also recognized Pastor for her work. Obama read a letter a girl wrote for Pastor that said, “Ms. Pastor epitomizes genuine advocacy for students’ success and often believes in them more than they believe in themselves. Students see this, and they’re inspired to reach higher, both in school and in their personal life. Ms. Pastor wants nothing more than to see students succeed and become the best versions of themselves. That is school counseling.”
One of Pastor’s former students, Wyatt Whitegoat, recognized Pastor and introduced the first lady at the event.
“One person in particular, inspired me to achieve and bridge the gap between reality and all my dreams that have come true. Katherine Pastor is a wonderful school counselor,” Whitegoat said. “If it weren’t for Ms. Pastor and her tremendous help with recommendations, essays, resumes and tests, I would not be the person I am today.”
Obama recognized the success Flagstaff High School has seen since Pastor has been counselor there.
“In just seven short years, Flagstaff High School has seen a 13 percent increase in college acceptance rates, and a 50 percent increase in the number of colleges that visit their campus,” she said.
Pastor encouraged all of the counselors to keep on with their work.
“We must continue to be the agents of change and the voice for students that do not have one,” Pastor said. “A school counselor’s work is never complete. Together however, we can help students achieve their dreams, one at a time.”
Obama announced she and her staff reached out to companies and organizations around the country to help fund school counseling.
Merck agreed to invest $1 million to expand the Counselors for Computing initiative to help 1,400 school counselors advise students pursuing careers in computer science. Google will soon make a way for students who can’t afford to visit a college campus, to see a 3D tour of any college across the country. Finally, Obama announced this year’s federal budget added $15 million for the Talent Search program , which helps disadvantaged students fill out financial aid forms and college applications.
“We’re going to keep shining that light on the work that you do, and ensure that whatever – whoever lives here next will continue this tradition and this work. You all truly deserve nothing less. You all are heroes,” she said.
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