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Lending an ear at William James
Counselors earn respect at middle school
The two counselors and graduation coach at William James Middle School have earned the respect of the entire school. Pictured, left to right, are Shannon Willis, Lauren Webb and DeeDee Thompson. - photo by ROGER ALLEN/special
    On Highway 80 heading north from Statesboro sits William James Middle School. In addition to 550 students and 38 teachers, the school has a team of three counselors who assist the faculty and staff.
    There are two guidance counselors: DeeDee Thompson and Lauren Webb, who splits her time between William James and Mill Creek Elementary. There is also a graduation coach, Shannon Willis.
    Principal Mike Yawn said, “They are truly our bridge between parents and staff. Their presence is felt throughout the entire school as they carry out peer mediation, make parental contacts and assist individual teachers in student tutoring.”
    One of assistant principal Tony Natson’s jobs is to handle student disciplinary issues. As such, he works closely with all three counselors.
    “They make my job easier because they are so good at what they do,” Natson said. “When students speak to them, they always hear the same message. That’s how much they are on the same page.”
    Thompson has worked at William James for three years.
    “She is so kind and compassionate that the students can’t help but let their guard down when they talk with her,” Natson said. “They really want to tell her what’s wrong.”
    Webb has been at William James now for two years. She splits her week: half of the time working at Mill Creek with Pre-K through fourth graders, and the other half of the week working at William James.
    “It’s amazing that she can go between two very different environments and manage to be so effective at both,” Natson said.
Mill Creek principal Trey Robertson called her ability to move between the two groups remarkable.
    “At an elementary school your advice has to be very simple and a straightforward set of instructions,” he said. “You cannot counsel them using complex ideas and concepts like you would middle schoolers.”
    Willis came to William James when the graduation coach’s position was created two years ago.
    “She’s an incredible teacher and can tutor her students in virtually any academic area,” Natson said. “In addition, she has to convince the students them to hang in there and finish their work, which she does.”
    Each of the counselors prefers to give the other most of the praise.
    “They absolutely trust DeeDee,” Willis said. “They tell me that she’s the trust worthiest person they’ve ever known. They depend upon her to be here for them.”
    “I really believe that what some of my students want is some good old motherly advice,” Thompson said. “One of our most important jobs is team them to have confidence in their ability to make the right decisions.”
    Webb said: “Shannon can get almost any student to work extra hard to get caught up with their work because they want to earn her respect. They know she has faith in them, and they don’t want to let her down.”
    Willis agreed.
    “One of our greatest challenges is to convince the students that no matter what they think, what they do now will really affect what happens later on in their lives.”
    When asked what they wish they could do to change their kids’ lives, Willis said, “I just wish that our kids didn’t have so many personal issues at such a young age. It’s not fair to them to have deal with all this stuff.
    “We would give anything to be able to stop them from hurting anymore, but there isn’t. The kids know we love them, and that’s what matters.”

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