James Madison University

Spotlight on an Alumni - Blair Shelley

“Spotlight on an Alumni” is a new addition to our counseling website. It is a way for alumni, faculty, current and prospective students to hear about and learn from the experiences of recent graduates from our programs. Our latest interviewee is Blair Shelley. She graduated from the School Counseling Program in May of 2013, has recently gotten married, and moved to Summerville, South Carolina to start her career as an elementary School Counselor.

PHOTO:Blair Shelley
While Blair was preparing to graduate from JMU, she doesn’t recall having a strong inclination of where she wanted to move. She and her husband (fiancé at the time) had narrowed down their search to several locations between where her parents lived, in West Virginia, and South Carolina where her husband’s family was living. He graduated before her and found a job in South Carolina so that is where Blair focused her job search. Although the adjustment was difficult at first, she has grown to love the “paradise” of Summerville, South Carolina.

Blair’s job search began the December before her May graduation. She’s thankful that she started that early because many of the school districts in the area that she is currently living required district clearance interviews before she could interview with individual schools. She went on several interviews, before and after she moved, until she finally got a position as a School Counselor at William Reeves Elementary School. School started on a Monday, she had her interview on Thursday of that week, and she started work that Friday.

There are many realities of transitioning from being a student to a working professional that the program could not prepare her for, such as being thrown into a job with a day’s notice. She’s grateful that during her time at JMU she got to experience working at all three levels of a school; elementary, middle, and high. She went into her training thinking that she wanted to work in a high school and she came out knowing that an elementary school is where she needed to be. Another aspect of her education that has helped her in various ways in her current job is the intensive self-exploration that the counseling program facilitates. It has contributed to her positive relationships with students and coworkers. Blair did admit that it was tough not having the daily support of her cohort after graduation. She went from being surrounded by a community of counselors to feeling somewhat like she’s on an isolated island. Luckily, she works with another School Counselor who she can bounce ideas off of.

Blair is one of two School Counselors at William Reeves and while she’s thankful to have the feedback and support of another counselor, it is still hard to meet the needs of approximately 1,200 students. They split up the grade levels between the two of them so that Blair has students in kindergarten, second, and fourth grade. Their county has the lowest administrator to student ratio in the state and because of this, Blair finds herself taking on a fair amount of administrative duties. This presents a conflict of roles. Blair’s primary duty is to make sure that the social and emotional needs of the students are met, and yet she has to deal with discipline issues when the school is shorthanded.   

Blair has had to learn how to advocate for herself as a School Counselor in an understaffed area. She and the other school counselors in her district are collecting data on how they are spending their time at school. She has been able to make charts of how her time is distributed and she can share these with teachers and administrators. The School Counselors in that district are planning on reporting their data at the School Board meeting at the end of the year to make a case for hiring more counselors and/or administrators. Blair’s one hang up about the area that she’s living in is that it seems to be growing quickly and the demands of the community cannot always be met. Three new elementary schools are scheduled to be built in her district, hopefully by next school year.

One thing that is difficult to collect data on is “Is the work I’m doing with students helping?”. “You don’t get to see the results of what you’re doing immediately. You might not think that you’re making a difference, but you are.” Some of the biggest rewards of this job for Blair has been when she gets feedback from students that she’s making a difference. There are times when she’ll be in meetings all day and a student will ask her why they haven’t seen her all day. Her presence is noticed, missed, and appreciated. Even in the heart wrenching scenarios where the police are involved in removing a student from a volatile home life, it is a comfort to Blair to know that she helped facilitate getting a child out of a bad situation.

Blair is willing to answer any further questions anyone may have and she can be contacted at blair.shelley@live.com .