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Counselor named Simon Foundation teacher of the year

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A Clark-Pleasant school counselor has been rewarded for her dedication to her job and students.

Katie Burton, a student services coordinator at Clark Pleasant Academy, recently received the Simon Youth Foundation Teacher of the Year award for her ability to connect with students.

The award is a national recognition given to a few educators at Simon Youth Foundation schools. The foundation, a part of the Simon shopping mall company, has partnered with Clark-Pleasant schools to help provide the facility where the academy is housed and provide scholarships and grants to students.

Jim White, director of the academy, which is an alternative school in the Clark-Pleasant district, said Burton was an obvious pick for the award because of her connection with students.

“She’s so good at getting to know them as people and finding what their life issues are and helping assist with those issues,” White said.

“She’s good at pulling back the layers and maybe helping find what’s a problem in their life and assisting with those issues.”

Burton said her students inspire her to do her job well.

“It’s quite an honor. It’s very exciting because at my job, I just do what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “It’s natural to want to help these students and do everything you can for them. To be acknowledged for it — that’s pretty cool.”

Kara Larkin, dean of students at Whiteland Community High School, worked with Burton for years when Larkin served as assistant director of the academy.

“She truly cares about the kids. Anything she does, she’s thinking, ‘Will this benefit the kids?’” Larkin said.

Larkin said Burton has been known to give her own food to students if they don’t have anything to eat at lunch, and she works tirelessly to come up with new ways to engage them, including through volunteer opportunities.

Burton helps students apply for youth philanthropy grants through the Johnson County Community Foundation.

With the grants, students have hosted a chili supper at The Refuge, a Greenwood community outreach center. Students also participate in the Million Meals Marathon in Indianapolis, a program in which volunteers package meals for local food banks.

Volunteer work is important for students to build character and life experience, Burton said.

“It makes them appreciate work more and teaches them skills like how to relate to people, how to be polite — simple life skills they need to know,” she said.

Getting students involved and giving back to their community is something Burton is passionate about, Larkin said.

“She’s just one of those educators who inspires me to want to be better. It’s really neat to work around someone who inspires you and pushes you to be a better person as well.”

Burton also is vice president of the Kids In Crisis Intervention Team, or KIC-IT, an outreach program for homeless youths.

She frequently gives presentations for state education associations and for graduate-level college courses, in which she discusses at-risk youth and how to engage them in school.

“The main thing I preach is that you can get to any student if you build a relationship with them,” she said.

“No matter their socioeconomic status, you can have an impact on them. That’s the bottom line. (Being) labeled ‘alternative kid’ or ‘alternative school’ or ‘at-risk youth’ doesn’t mean they’re bad, but that they learn differently.”

Burton regularly sees graduates and past students stop by her office to tell her about a new job, a new girlfriend or just what’s new in life.

“I can gauge my success if they return and want to talk about their successes in life,” Burton said. “It speaks wonders. It means that we made some kind of impact.”

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