Going Above and Beyond: A local online school counselor wins a state award

Published: May. 23, 2019 at 6:52 PM CDT
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With a few clicks, students can find themselves in a classroom.

"For some students, they have tried the brick and mortar – wasn't being successful there so, I think for many students, we're giving them an opportunity to continue their education and hopefully be successful," says Ryan Johnson, the Assistant Principal at iQ Academy Minnesota.

"We do have a lot of students who come to us with medical issues and they can't leave their house. Or it might be a social-emotional thing where they have anxiety and so they have the opportunity to be in a comfortable place in a great setting for them while still getting their education," says Cheryl Bormann, one of iQ Academy Minnesota's school counselors. “The online realm has been a really amazing, wonderful place for me. And it’s a great fit for a lot of our students.”

And while curriculum and classwork can be saved and stored online, some things - like personal connections - can't. You might think it's difficult to make meaningful connections with students when there's no face to face interaction, but Bormann says that's not the case.

"Just yesterday I got feedback from a student who was failing all of his classes a week ago, and he's now passing. And he emailed me, 'Thank you so much for believing in me, even when I didn't believe in myself,'" Bormann says.

She runs her school counseling program through chat rooms, phone calls, and emails - and her work is now award winning. Bormann was named as one of the best school counselors in the state by the Minnesota School Counselor Association.

"We do small groups sometimes, where we ask students to log in to an online classroom and we go over things that way. A lot of phone calls and emails. And we've just recently this year started doing more text messages to families and students," says Bormann. "We give students a lot of opportunity for a lot of different contact, which I think is another benefit of online."

"She goes above and beyond to try and find them, connect with them, and make them feel heard and connected with the school even though it is online," says Dr. Marguerite Ohrtman, Minnesota School Counselor Association's President-Elect. "Cheryl Bormann is a wonderful example of what we hope school counseling is."

Ohrtman says it was endearing to read all of the letters of support that came in from Bormann's colleagues and community members to support her nomination.

Some things that weren't considered when giving Bormann the award were the school's test results and graduation rates.

According to state statistics, iQ Academy Minnesota has below average attendance, graduation rates, and number of students that aren't mastering state standards.

But educators say those numbers don't tell the full story.

"It's hard to connect the test scores. We know that progress takes time. Obviously, we're there to help students do better. To us, it's more than just test scores – the work that they're doing," Ohrtman adds.

"We do have a transient population – kind of in and out," Johnson says. "We started at 460, we're ending at 785 – and there's probably another 200 or so that tried it and it didn't work for them."

"We have such a wide variety of students that are very highly motivated, but then also some that really don't want anything to do with education anymore. And so they're trying something different, but they've already experienced some type negative experience in the school setting – so we're already fighting that and trying to get them back on board," says Bormann. "We do really try to meet the students where they're at and pull them up so they can do that much better."

And so while Bormann works to find new ways to support students, she says she appreciates when they support her as well.

"It's wonderful to feel supported because that's not always the case," Bormann says. "Within the state of Minnesota, there are not as many school counselors as there should be, so I feel fortunate to feel appreciated and supported by our administration."

Graduation for some iQ Academy Minnesota students is Friday, May 24. The ceremony is an in-person commencement for the online students, allowing the students and their families to celebrate the traditional high school milestone together.

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