By Elianna Novitch
Sheryl Cline is committed to being there for her students, regardless of the unique circumstances facing them.
Her passion and commitment to her students led to her being named the 2020 Counselor of the Year by the Iowa Association for College Admission Counseling. Cline’s peers nominated her for the award.
Cline, a ninth and 10th-grade counselor at Linn-Mar High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says it was an honor to be selected for the award amongst such a talented pool of candidates.
“It's quite an honor to be selected by peers and be recognized for the work that we're doing through not only Iowa Association for College Admission Counseling but also through the Iowa School Counselor Association,” Cline says.
Cline has been working as a school counselor for eight years but didn’t originally envision herself working with high school students. After graduating with a bachelor's in psychology from Mount Mercy University, Cline worked as a paraeducator in a kindergarten classroom for a year and then worked in a mental health counseling clinic focused on behavioral health intervention services.
Cline says she felt overwhelmed by the high-stress situations of community-based counseling and was interested in a career that was better balanced and more structured. This led her to school counseling. Cline decided to go back to school and earned a Master of Arts degree in school counseling from the University of Iowa College of Education in 2012.
Cline has been working at Linn-Mar High School for five years. She first started out as a school counselor in the Central City Community School District for three years and then accepted a position at Linn-Mar High School.
“Something that is really cool about Linn-Mar is that since we're such a huge district and our high school has about 2,150 students, is that I get to work on a team,” Cline says. “Having been in a small school where I was the only one, it's great to be able to have a group of counselors that I can bounce ideas off of.”
Cline says collaborating with her colleagues has been especially essential this past couple of months as they have transitioned to working remotely.
“We've really come together and talked about how we can best support each other and support our students,” Cline says. “At a smaller school, I might be the only one coming up with everything but here I don't have to do everything on my own. I can work with my team to ensure that we're helping support our students together.”
In her role as a ninth and 10th-grade counselor, Cline assists her students in transitioning from middle school into high school and works with them as they develop their identity and independence.
Cline also works in Linn-Mar’s college and career center where she helps develop programming around college and career readiness including setting up career speakers, career tours, college admissions visits, and college visits.
Outside of her role as a school counselor, Cline also serves as president of the Iowa School Counselor Association where she advocates for school counselors across the state and helps provide them with support.
“Within the school system there's not always professional development that's geared toward things that school counselors are doing, so we provide that opportunity for counselors to network with each other and support each other,” Cline says.
She also provides leadership to school counselors across the state as they and their students adjust to changing circumstances.
“When the schools closed, we did some online meet-ups so counselors could talk to each other about what they're doing and how they're supporting their students,” Cline says. “Counselors could get ideas and share with each other some of the stressors that they were experiencing, and how to address issues that might have come up with equitable access to the internet and things like that.”
As they move forward, Cline says she wants to help support school counselors as they work to understand how to address racism in their schools and institutional barriers that students experience because they're black.
“That'll definitely be a challenge, but I want to tackle it and make a concerted effort to support counselors with that critical work,” Cline says.
Cline says the College of Education helped set her up to be successful in her role as a school counselor.
“I think the program at Iowa really prepared me well to come into the school and be ready to kind of hit the ground running as soon as we started,” Cline says. “It's hard in education to prepare somebody for what it's like to be a teacher or counselor on their own but Iowa did a good job of pushing us towards being independent and helping us hone the skills we had to be ready to take on our own programs.”
Cline still keeps in contact with her professors, Susannah Wood and David Duys, at the UI and hosts interns and practicum students.
Cline says that school counselors are needed now more than ever.
“I think now almost more than ever counselors are so important because we are seeing more and more of our students experiencing some very difficult mental health needs,” Cline says. “We're here to support them through that but also the changing climate of our economy and making sure that they’re prepared for a career or for college and that they're making the right decisions for their long-term goals.”
Cline will continue to serve as a leader and advocate for her students and counselors across the state.
“I just hope that I can continue to be a leader and help support school counselors across the state as they continue to learn and grow, and we continue to adapt to the world and change for the better,” Cline says.