Alamo counselor finds her niche

Since she was a little girl, Melanie Sheehan has wanted to be an elementary school counselor. Now she’s fulfilling that dream at Alamo STEAM Academy.
It was recently National School Counseling Week. This is Sheehan’s second year at Alamo.
“When I was a kid, we had an elementary counselor. I had a bunch of friends they all lived on my street. We all walked to school together, but then … there was always some type of an issue or something. It was always the counselor that called us out of class and let us work it out or talk it out,” Sheehan recalled.
“I thought she had the best job in the whole world. I just loved her and I loved the way she helped out in elementary,” she said.
That’s what helped set Sheehan on the path to school counseling.
Sheehan grew up in Colorado and was a special education teacher there for 15 years. She also worked in a treatment center for children.
“But I had gone to school for school counseling before I ever was a special ed teacher. Just the path of my life kind of needed me to be in a classroom teaching before I could counsel,” she said.
When she moved to Odessa to be with her husband, it was the perfect chance to do what she’d always wanted to do.
Sheehan grew up in Longmont, Colo., and lived in different Denver suburbs, mostly recently Brighton. Her parents live in Loveland.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in family studies and a master’s in special education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She also received a master’s in counseling from the University of Phoenix on campus.
Some 380 prekindergarten through fifth grade students attend Alamo and Sheehan sees them all at one point or another.
“Once a month I’ll do guidance lessons. We have a classroom that’s not being used; we call it a learning lab. I’ll set up myself in that classroom,” Sheehan said.
The teachers sign up for 45-minute time slots and they’ll discuss character traits and topics such as bullying, decision making and goal setting.
“We’ll have a theme and maybe we’ll play a game, or do some type of fun activity. But each month, every class will cycle through,” she said.
“That’s my favorite time of every month just because I get to see everyone and interact with them. I have lunch duty every single day which is with the entire school. That provides me opportunity to get in little conversations with kids, but the guidance lessons are more just my time with the kids,” Sheehan added.
One of the biggest issues students talk about with her are relationship and friendship issues.
“I try really hard with the kids to decrease cliques. … We don’t all let them sit together in the cafeteria. We try to spread people out and have everyone talking to other people. I do feel like the kids at this school are really, really good about including kids with special needs. …,” Sheehan said.
She added that there’s always someone who wants a peer to feel part of whatever is going on.
“For the most part kids at Alamo are very welcoming. They’re very open to suggestions to do different things, try different things, be inclusive of everyone. Kids want to participate and do things to better the school,” Sheehan said.
Students sometimes don’t know how to tell her what they want to say, so she’ll let them color, build a story with figures, or play with animal figures.
“Giving them something to do with their hands whatever it might be to occupy them which makes them feel more relaxed so they can just be,” Sheehan said.
Because of her experience at treatment facilities, she’s not shocked by much she hears about in her office.
“There’s so much horrible craziness that I’ve seen and dealt with in my life as in my career. I guess I feel like no matter what a kid shows up with, no matter what the problem is, it’s something that I can absolutely handle and help the kids through. Nine times out of 10, it’s not as bad as something I’ve already had to deal with,” Sheehan said.
“I have to just be able to be effective with the kids and not cloud it up with my own emotions and whatever’s going on with me,” she said.
Having finally landed in an elementary school counseling spot, Sheehan said she’s “totally” where she’s supposed to be and it makes her happy to get up and go to work in the morning.
“I just love elementary kids. I love working in an office where I get to have my own time with them and I don’t have to share them with other students, necessarily. I love when I walk down the halls in this school, every single kid their face lights up they wave at me. They’re not supposed to talk in the hallway and they’re not supposed to make any noise in the hallway per the rules, but it’s like they can’t help themselves from saying, ‘Oh, hi Ms. Sheehan; or you look so pretty, or look at my hair.’ It’s just some type of interaction is always happening,” she said.
She added that she’s supposed to be the adult, but she gets right into it, too.
“It’s not probably appreciated by my principal, but it’s who I am,” Sheehan said.
Ector County ISD Executive Director of Guidance and Counseling Nancy Vanley said Sheehan goes above and beyond for her students at the campus.
“She has implemented wonderful guidance lessons. She always has a great attitude,” Vanley said.