Suffolk resident awarded for work at school

Published 8:48 pm Monday, July 12, 2021

A Suffolk resident recently was recognized for her work as a school counselor at Newport News’s Ethel M. Gildersleeve Middle School during the pandemic.

Dr. Crystal Hatton, a lifelong Suffolk resident, was honored with a 2021 National Certified School Counselor Award by the National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates.

“When the pandemic happened, it turned everyone upside down completely,” said Hatton, who has since moved on from Gildersleeve to become an assistant professor at Liberty University in the Department of Counselor Education and Family Studies. “We are used to being able to implement our services in traditional school buildings. We had to pick up the pieces and rebuild those school counseling services.”

Hatton said she and her team were able to convert some things straight from in-building services to virtual services. But they also implemented a number of other initiatives.

“We implemented weekly ‘break and breathe’ sessions with students, where they could log on via Zoom and just were able to maintain connectedness,” Hatton said. “They could see familiar faces, and we talked about coping strategies. That was very helpful and well-attended.”

Hatton and her colleagues also did something similar for teachers. “It gave them a chance to connect after school hours in a professional environment to talk about personal growth and self-care,” Hatton said. “They poured into each other, and the connectedness they normally would get during the school day — they got it online.”

Other efforts by Hatton and her team resulted in motivational videos posted to the school counseling account as well as a virtual career fair for students, which focused on first-responder careers in light of the pandemic.

Hatton said she was “shocked beyond measure” to learn she had been chosen for the award. She applied after being encouraged to do so by Dr. Kylie Dotson-Blake, president and chief executive officer of the National Board for Certified Counselors, who saw a presentation Hatton had done on her and her team’s work during the pandemic.

She was one of only 10 recipients nationwide and was the only one in Virginia.

“I was humbled at the fact I had won the award,” she said. “I humbly accepted the award on behalf of my team. It could not have been done without them.”

The award comes with a $1,000 monetary award to be used for resources at the school. Hatton said the school plans to spend the money on motivational wristbands that counselors can pass out to students, allowing them to build connections with students as they return to school next year; fidget devices for children who can benefit from them; journals to help the counselors nurture journaling as a coping skill; and technology for students, including iPads or tablets.

Hatton said for many students, a school counselor is the only counselor they will ever see. This is due to lack of access and a stigma attached to counseling and other mental health services, Hatton said.

“I’m so passionate about this topic,” Hatton said. “Students are coming back to school after enduring a global pandemic. As educators, we all have to be mindful and informed of how to meet students where they are and make sure we’re treating the holistic needs of students. We can no longer focus just on academic development.”

Hatton, who earned her doctorate degree in 2014, said leaving Gildersleeve to become an assistant professor at Liberty University was a tough decision. However, she feels called to teach and train future school counselors.

“I find that just as rewarding to help them help their students,” she said. “The work has changed, but the goal is still the same.”