• October 30, 2020

Austin Montessori counselor earns award - Odessa American: Education

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Austin Montessori counselor earns award

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  • Counselor of the Year

    Clutching a thank you pillow signed by former students, Austin Montessori counselor Melanie Thayer sits on the couch in her office where kids can come and visit with her when they feel overwhelmed.

Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2020 4:30 am

Melanie Thayer first decided to become a school counselor when she saw one in action at Richardson ISD after she had started teaching there.

“... Our school counselor there got to do things with kids that no one else on the campus could do. She would come in and she would do these team building activities. She would bring out the fun of school ... another aspect of being at school that I just loved,” Thayer said.

Thayer is in her 13th year in education. She taught for six years and is starting her seventh year as the counselor at Austin Montessori Elementary School.

Thayer recently earned the Counselor of the Year Award for Ector County ISD.

Thayer has been with the district for nine years and is in her seventh as a counselor.

She previously taught fourth grade at Dowling Elementary School for two years.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Mississippi and a master’s in school counseling from University of Texas Permian Basin.

She and her husband, Bob, moved here 18 years ago so he could become pastor of Odessa Bible Church.

They have two children.

Thayer grew up in Tulsa, Okla. Her father was from Mississippi and she would visit family there.

She said the award was a complete surprise. Thayer and her assistant principal work on testing all year and had just finished conducting a TELPAS test for English language learners.

Thayer said she was asked to come back to campus and was told about the recognition.

“I was humbled,” she said. “I was very surprised and humbled. I did not expect it.”

She started a fifth-grade VIPs (Volunteers & Partners) program at Austin. The students volunteer and Thayer teaches them how to get ice from the nurse and how to deliver mail, for example.

“I started a Just Say No club. I invite speakers to come monthly from like the SWAT team, which is awesome. They bring their big SWAT mobile and the kids go through it, but we connect it to not doing drugs, which is also fun; just teaching them friendship and team building through that club,” Thayer said.

She also started a field trip for fifth graders to Texas Tech University. She takes 20 to 25 students and they tour the campus, visit a dorm room and eat on campus.

“It’s just an eye-opening thing for our kids that there’s a world out there beyond Odessa,” Thayer said. “Then we take them to Main Event and we come home.”

Main Event has bowling, mini golf, a variety of games and food.

Those activities are on hold for now because of the pandemic.

She sees 100 to 150 students throughout the year. Common threads she sees in students she talks to are broken homes, friendship issues and family issues. Mom and dad not being together is the main one, though, Thayer said.

She said she’s noticed that some students are anxious because of COVID-19 and some are also traumatized by the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting even if it didn’t directly affect them. “My training tells me that trauma can happen second hand; that you can just watch something happen from afar, or on the news and a child will internalize it. ...,” Thayer said.

“With the pandemic, students haven’t been able to be with their friends.”

From March to May of last school year, Thayer was among ECISD personnel calling youngsters and families to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. “Our social worker for the district, Scott Randolph, had so many resources but I couldn’t get to the families except to call them. It was very difficult to reach out,” she said.

At Austin, she goes into the classrooms weekly and she teaches guidance lessons on subjects like bravery, respect and friendship.

“I originally started off as a teacher, so I’m still getting to see that classroom group of kids and teach them character (education) weekly, which is unique to our campus. It cuts down on office referrals because you’re teaching those social skills” such as holding your anger in and channeling it.

Thayer said she always wanted to go into education. “When I was in middle school I had a rough go of it with friendships; the drama. And I noticed that the teachers, and it wasn’t even here it was in Tulsa and the teachers didn’t even seem like they wanted to be there. They were just as unhappy as we were. I realized that as a kid,” Thayer said.

“At that moment in middle school, I thought I’m going to go back and be a teacher and I’m going to teach in middle school. I’m not in middle school, but I am a teacher,” she added.

Executive Director of Guidance and Counseling Nancy Vanley said Thayer is wonderful.

“She’s just all there for the kids. She does great guidance lessons. She has a very calm demeanor, so she’s good for everybody. She’s good for the campus culture, as well. She really goes above and beyond in what she provides for the kids. She’s really good,” Vanley said.

Odessa, TX

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