Sue Hilton started out teaching high school biology. But when she saw the needs in schools, she decided to become a school counselor.
Hilton, 66, has spent more than 20 years since then trying to address many of those needs. Her experience as a parent of two sons made her especially sensitive to some of those needs.
“The needs are just huge,” said Hilton, coordinator of counseling services for the York school district. “There are so many changes I’ve seen in the 40-plus years that I’ve been in education, and a lot of it has to do with changes in society. I think school counselors are crucial.”
Hilton was last week named the 2014 Advocate of the Year by the Palmetto State School Counseling Association, a professional organization for S.C. school counselors.
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The award is given to someone who has demonstrated a belief in and support of school counseling programs that have had an impact on counselors and students at the local, state or national level. Hilton was recognized at a conference on Jan. 24.
Donna Bailey, a counselor at York Comprehensive High School who has worked with Hilton for more than 20 years, nominated her for her “energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and willingness to go the extra mile for the common good” of students.
She was honored in part for her work in implementing the Olweus bullying prevention program in all York elementary schools.
The grant-funded bullying awareness program is now being expanded, Hilton said, to York Middle School and York One Academy, which were not included in the original grant.
Hilton said she believes the program is making a difference.
“The reports back are really good: That the teachers are doing the class meetings and that they see a change in the students’ awareness and their behavior,” she said.
Hilton was also recognized for other work, including her role in the development of an Early College program between YCHS and York Technical College, which enables high-achieving students to earn up to 31 hours of transferable college credit before they leave high school.
She also was recognized for the development and implementation of a prevention and intervention program for students with drug- or alcohol-related referrals at school.
Other examples of her advocacy include her work with students in IGP development, orientation and senior audits; and for her leadership in coordination of school counselor meetings, school-based mental health counselor meetings and dissemination of information with particular attention to new state testing.
While leading the district initiatives, Bailey wrote in her nomination, Hilton “has not lost sight of the individual student.”
Superintendent Vernon Prosser also endorsed Hilton, writing that she “is truly an advocate for students, both among staff in the district and with community agencies and groups. She works tirelessly with the student in mind.”
Hilton, a Greenville native who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Newberry College, began her career in 1971, as a Northwestern High School biology teacher.
She came to the York district in 1992, after earning a master’s degree in counseling from Winthrop University. She was a school counselor who divided her time between York Middle School and the high school.
In 1995, Hilton moved to YCHS in a full-time role and became director of guidance. Her job was eliminated two years ago, as part of sweeping budget cuts across the district. However, she was rehired in a grant-funded position as coordinator of district counseling services.
Hilton said the grant for her current position runs out in September 2015. However, she said other grants are in the works, and she has committed to staying on if possible.
Hilton said some of her experiences as a parent made her more understanding of certain problems. For example, one of her sons experienced years of persistent bullying, and she has spoken in public about that problem.
“It makes a world of difference when you are a parent,” she said. “I have a lot different perspective for a lot of things from being a parent.”
She said one need she sees is for young students to learn about empathy. “Just to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, is just a key thing some kids aren’t getting,” she said.
Hilton said she believes school counselors can make a big difference by reaching out and addressing students’ needs or weaknesses at a young age, before they become greater problems.
“I think it’s a critical position, from elementary through high school,” Hilton said. “There are so many things we can teach at elementary that will make students so much more successful.”