Wellborn Elementary School counselor Mindi Amberson thought she was walking into a school assembly about the Freedom Riders Wednesday afternoon. Instead, she walked into a gym with hundreds of students screaming for her.
The Alabama School Counselor Association recently named Amberson the 2018 School Counselor of the Year. The honor means she will represent her state in an event in Washington D.C. at an event where former first lady Michelle Obama will speak.
Faculty organized the surprise ceremony Wednesday to send Amberson off with the gratitude of the entire community, Wellborn Elementary principal Jeanna Chandler said.
“She’s the total package. She has a heart for the kids in the Wellborn community,” Chandler said.
Amberson focuses her work on taking care of the total needs of each student, Chandler said. That could mean providing food or clothing to a child or counseling them after the death of a parent.
Chandler said Amberson has grown the number of mentors coming into the school, which includes Amberson’s own husband. Chandler also said Amberson has brought in play therapy, a method used among 3- to 11-year-olds allowing children to work through their feelings through play.
Amberson also is a certified professional counselor and worked at an Oxford methadone clinic and as a Department of Human Resources social worker before coming to Wellborn in 2013. She was named the Alabama Elementary School Counselor of the Year in 2016. An Anniston Star photo of her at the time shows Amberson organizing a walk-in closet for the students at Wellborn, so that something like torn pants wouldn’t prevent a child from learning.
After Amberson received her standing ovation and a gift bag from the students Wednesday, her colleague, Weaver Elementary School counselor Tawana Bonds, spoke to the crowd.
Bonds said Amberson speaks at conferences around the country with the American School Counselors Association and is a leader in her field.
“I admire you; I aspire to be like you ... I'm so proud of you. And I am one of your biggest fans,” Bonds told her.
Wiping tears from her eyes amid the applause, Amberson said the Wellborn community is her family, but she deflected the praise.
“It’s really not just me. I do what I do because I have amazing administration and amazing faculty,” she said.