HPS Counselors Help Build Student Success

HOPE – Nationwide, school guidance counselors build upon a foundation for student success which culminates in each student knowing the path to his or her success at high school graduation. And, National School Counseling Week, sponsored by the American School Counsel Association through Feb. 7, recognizes the vital nature of that role.

“The job of school counselor is multi-faceted,” Hope Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart said. “They wear many hats and we are fortunate to have a group in our school district that are capable and care deeply about children. On behalf of the entire district, I want to thank them for their dedication to our students.”


They call themselves “the Dynamic Duo,” fighting for the success of students at Hope High School.

Hope High School Counselor Varonica Kennedy chuckles when she tells HHS Career Coach Kayla Jones they should order Dynamic Duo tee shirts; but, at heart, she is serious.

“The children we deal with come from very inconsistent backgrounds, and they need someone who will be around who will always be consistent in the way they treat them,” Kennedy said.

That is the basis for the relationship a counselor must have with every student, she said.

And, building positive relationships with students is fundamental to the job, Kennedy notes, referring to her years in the classroom. She taught for six years in the El Dorado Public Schools in first and third grade classes, as well as serving as an activity teacher, technology specialist and reading specialist before becoming a school counselor.

“What I saw in the classroom is what brought me to counseling,” Kennedy said.

A graduate of Liberty-Eylau High School, and South Arkansas Community College, in El Dorado, where she earned an Associate of Arts degree in education, Kennedy completed her Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Arkansas – Monticello.

Kennedy completed a Master of Education degree at Southern Arkansas University, in Magnolia, before moving to the Texarkana Independent School District in 2017, where she became a counselor in the Theron Jones Early Literacy Center.

She is in her first year as counselor at HHS, and sees her role as augmenting teacher effectiveness.

“I basically wanted more knowledge on what I could learn to be a more effective teacher,” Kennedy said.

According to the American School Counselor Association, the role of school counselor has two general components and one grade-specific component.

“School counselors are vital members of the education team and maximize student success,” the ASCA notes. “School counselors help all students apply academic achievement strategies, and manage emotions and apply interpersonal skills.”

At the secondary grade level, counselors help students focus on life after graduation; and, that is Jones’ component as HHS Career Coach.

“Kayla Jones has been very helpful to me in knowing the process of college,” Kennedy said.

Jones is also in her first year at HHS.

“I wanted to give back what I, as a senior in high school, did not get to have,” she said.

With a BS degree in Human Services, Jones took on the role after teaching for a year at Yerger Middle School.

“I had more in the field of helping students push forward toward college than I had in teaching them in the classroom,” she said.

Some research suggests middle year counselors in grades 5-8 are pivotal influences in fostering healthy social development of students to prepare them for high school, according to studies on social norms and preventing self-destructive behavior. Yerger Middle School Counselor Joyce Smith, Beryl Henry Elementary School Counselor Christie Sullivan and Hope Academy of Public Service Counselor Marilyn Marks agree.


“When I went to East Texas State University, counseling was just getting started in public schools in Arkansas,” Smith said.

That was in 1987 when she took her Master of Science in Education degree.

Smith earned a BSE in special education from Philander Smith College in Little Rock in 1980,

spent two years teaching in California and taught in Texarkana Texas and Arkansas, Longview, Texas, and the Washington and Saratoga schools in Hempstead County before arriving at Yerger Middle School as counselor in 1991.

Smith, a native of Washington (Hempstead County), graduated as valedictorian from Lincoln High School there at age 16 in 1976 with what she characterizes as a gift for empathy.

“I’ve always been a counselor,” she said. “When I was young, I gave advice; it just seemed natural for me.”

A major shift to data-driven academic standards built upon testing has been the greatest challenge for counselors over time, Smith said.

“Getting to help the kids was my biggest joy,” she said.


Christi Sullivan is a Texarkana native, Prescott High School graduate by way of Arkadelphia, who spent the first 16 years of her 26-year public education career at Clinton Primary School.

“As a classroom teacher, I saw the need,” Sullivan says of her role as a counselor.

She took her BSE and MSE from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia in 1994 and 2001, respectively, and taught her first two years in special education at CPS. Sullivan stayed in the classroom at CPS another seven years before becoming counselor on the campus.

“I get to be with the kids, talk to them, get to know them, all day long,” she said.

That sort of outside the classroom access kept her in counseling when she was given the opportunity to become counselor at Beryl Henry Elementary, a fifth-sixth grade campus.

“I love this job,” Sullivan quipped.


The grades 5-8 HAPS campus is a new sort of academic environment and challenge for HAPS Counselor Marilyn Marks.

“Students today are so plugged into social media and technology it is different for them,” Marks said.

Personal technology devices are not allowed in use during the school day at HAPS, but much of the day is spent using technology in pursuit of a “college ready” academic goal. That is a significant cultural shift which has taken place in Marks’ 18 years as an educator.

A native of Chidester in Ouachita County, Marks graduated from Nevada High School at Rosston. And, she credits her high school counselor with keeping her on the academic and social path toward “college ready.”

“Wanting to help students that way steered me toward counseling,” Marks said.

She took her BSE in 2002 and an MSE in counseling in 2005 from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. Marks taught second grade in Magnolia before teaching sixth grade at Beryl Henry Elementary School. Marks stepped out of the classroom to become counselor at Prescott High School, and she has been at HAPS the past two years.

The foundational aspects of education counseling are at the beginning, in the primary grades K-4.


After 10 years in the classroom as a second-grade teacher at Clinton Primary School, Hope native and 1994 Hope High School graduate Shauntelle Jarvis became a counselor at CPS.

“I felt like I could help the kids,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis completed her education studies at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, earning both BSE and MSE degrees. She has been one half of the counseling team at CPS for five years.

“I love being able to help the kids become better students,” Jarvis said.

Paige Bobo, the other half of the CPS counseling team, has been an educator in the Hope Public Schools for 29 years.

A graduate of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia with a BSE degree and East Texas State University with an MSE degree, Bobo taught at Beryl Henry Elementary School and second grade at CPS, before taking on the counseling role at CPS for the past 22 years, she said.

Bobo recognizes the importance of having classroom experience as a counselor.

“I wanted to help on the next level,” she said.

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