Counselor gets jump on dream


Local News

December 6, 2019 - 10:31 PM

Kelsey Larson is in her first year as Iola High School guidance counselor. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS

Kelsey Larson had a long-term plan. 

But things rarely go according to plan.

Larson taught third grade at Lincoln Elementary School for two years. She enjoyed working with the students, figuring out lesson plans and setting up games as part of the educational process. 

She expected to teach elementary students for about 10 years or so before transitioning to her ultimate goal as a school counselor. She enrolled at Fort Hays State University after her first year of teaching, in pursuit of a counseling degree focused on students’ social and emotional development. 

But an unexpected opening at Iola High School changed her course. Longtime counselor Melissa Stiffler moved into a new role at the district, helping students interested in Career and Technical Education and internships. That left a vacancy in the counseling department, and Larson saw a perfect opportunity.

“I feel like people stay in counseling jobs for a long time, so it’s hard to know when they’ll open back up,” she said. “It was pretty hard to pass up.”

Larson became the new school counselor at IHS, working under a provisional counseling certificate from the state while she completes her education. She expects to graduate from Fort Hays in May.


LARSON’S experience as a teacher gives her a unique perspective as a counselor.

Teachers are the first line of defense. They see students every day. They know when a student is struggling, or when someone needs to be pointed in the right direction.

“Teachers know the kids better than I do, and they can give a lot of insight,” Larson said.

Mostly, Larson helps students with academic counseling and career preparation. She enjoys helping students build their schedules and guide them on a path toward the future.

In recent years, school districts started to guide students toward a career pathway, starting their freshman year. Students assess their interests, abilities and possible career choices. They take classes geared toward achieving those goals

Critics might say high school students are too young to know what they want to do for the rest of their life, and shouldn’t be forced into a specific direction.

But Larson counters that it’s important for students to be aware of their options, and the earlier, the better. It’s natural to change course, but it’s easier to make those changes in high school when there are more chances to learn and adapt. A student who goes to college without a clear understanding of what it takes to achieve a goal  is potentially being set up for costly failure. 

“I had no idea what I was going to do, and I was an undecided major my first two years of college,” Larson said. “I tell kids, it’s not that you are deciding. You are opening those career options. Do I need to go to college? How many years of college do I need? What’s my plan to be successful?”

It will take time for students and others to see the value in that, she said. Deciding what you want to do after high school can be stressful.

“It’s super overwhelming for the kids. They feel so much pressure,” she said. “That’s where the individual plan of study comes in. They don’t have to decide on a career, but how are we going to make school relevant and make sure kids actually enjoy being here?”

In fact, it will take time for Larson herself to see the value in her work. She’s still learning the ropes, and she’s eager to see how she can influence students as they transition from high school to the real world.

“I want to see these kids become successful adults. I really enjoy helping kids figure out what they want to do and who they want to become,” she said. “I want to be the safe space they can go to, not just for the emotional side but also academically and careerwise.”