She has helped children whose parents are divorcing and worked with students to get through tough issues at home.
Samantha Vidal, Creekside Elementary School’s counselor, helped start a weekend food program so students won’t go hungry and teaches students about bullying, body safety and self-esteem.
Now, she wants to help make sure that every student in Indiana has access to some of the services she has developed for her school.
Vidal has been named a national finalist for School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. In January, she will speak with lawmakers in Washington, asking them to require all elementary schools to have a counselor on staff. She worked with the Indiana School Counselor Association to bring a similar bill to Indiana.
Vidal is the only finalist who works in an elementary school. Only counselors who are finalists for the award will address lawmakers and attend a black tie dinner at the White House.
She wants to talk with lawmakers about why having a counselor in every school, like at Franklin schools, is important. Schools that don’t have a school counselor typically contract with social workers, Vidal said. Those social workers are good at dealing with existing issues, such as when a child has been hurt.
“It’s getting them to understand what we do at this level,” she said. “That’s a problem across the board.”
Much of the work Vidal does is prevention. She works with kids to make sure that their basic needs are met at home, helps them deal with emotional issues, develops programs to talk with kids about college and forms groups for students dealing with tough issues.
“Sometimes (students) just need that extra support,” she said.
Principal Mark Heiden credits Vidal for building up Creekside Elementary School’s counseling program into a robust help line for students.
The program had a part-time counselor when he started, and Vidal was one of the first employees he hired after starting at the school, Heiden said.
“She was really able to overhaul the entire program,” Heiden said. “She brought a proactive approach to school counseling.”
Since taking the position as Creekside’s counselor about eight years ago, Vidal has developed programs and curriculum to help students. She has helped increase the school’s college readiness program, organizing field trips to a different college each year.
Every student will see her in their classroom once a month, teaching them about topics such as empathy, bullying and anger management.
“I am very proud of the fact that I am in the classroom a lot,” she said.
Vidal uses school data, such as test scores and attendance sheets, to tailor programs that help students in Creekside specifically, Heiden said. For example, she started an attendance club this year to encourage students to get to school on time and teach them how to help their parents get them ready for school every day, he said.
“She has reacted to those types of needs,” Heiden said. “I am not sure what I would do without a school counselor that does the type of job that Samantha does.”
Vidal decided to become a counselor after a high school job as a camp counselor at in Lexington. Her boss was a school counselor, and Vidal liked helping the at-risk campers. After that summer, she chose her career.
“I really like working with kids who are having a hard time and being an advocate for them,” she said.
Vidal said she likes working one on one with students. Students who get in trouble in the classroom for minor issues, such as talking too much, are among her favorite students, she said.
Often the characteristics that get them into trouble in the classroom can be harnessed to transform them into driven students, she said.
“I like helping them figure out how to use (the characteristic) as a strength and not a weakness,” she said.