Elmore County High School counselor Jerie Lewis’ office is a hive of activity most days. This time of year seniors depend on her to help them navigate life after high school.
“Being able to sit with young people and know that at this point in their life they have the most opportunities they are ever going to have gives me energy,” she said. “The options are limitless. It’s exciting to see them work so hard and see good things happen.”
Most years the high school graduates around 125 students. It is Lewis’ job to help those students become informed on what is available to them after they earn those diplomas.
“Helping students realize their potential, regardless of what that potential is, is what I do,” she said.
“I had a student who applied for a UPS job. He was a great kid. He started at the end of October when the Christmas rush started. He’d work in the evening and come to school. He would be so tired I’d ask him how many boxes he moved the night before.”
At that time, the student and Lewis had no idea he would eventually become a diesel mechanic at UPS.
“He wanted to be a diesel mechanic,” she said. “That was his element. When he got in with UPS they loved him. Of course they did. He showed up every day, worked hard and is just a really good kid.
“He was hired at UPS when he graduated high school. The company put him through Trenholm State Community College to become a diesel mechanic. I’m very fond of the company after going through that with the student. Taking that opportunity led to some very good things.”
Lewis has been a counselor in Elmore County Schools for 15 years and has seen the challenges kids face over the years.
“For the most part, the kids really have not changed that much,” Lewis said. “They are still the same. What I see as the most challenging thing is a lot of depression in adolescents.”
Lewis said social media is a contributing factor.
“Social media can be a very good tool,” she said. “We are an instant society. In our day if we had a bad day at school, we could get away from it. Our kids do not get away from it. It follows them. We’re a digital society and that has led to a lot of social issues and isolation and depression and anger. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Helping Lewis with mental health challenges is Elmore County Schools special education supervisor/mental health lead Rashawn Blassingame.
“There are really difficult situations we have to deal with,” Lewis said. “In the past there were students who needed resources and those resources were not there. Not only were they not there for the students, they were not there for the teachers.
“Mrs. Blassingame has become that person. She cannot fix everything but she has become that person who can help. Having someone who can get us the resources we need is invaluable.”
Lewis is the only nationally board certified counselor in Elmore County. She earned the certification in 2010. There were a total of 40 people who had that certification in the state of Alabama in 2010.