NORTH FORSYTH — Who are the people in a school who listen to a student’s relationship woes in the morning, convince another that life is worth living by lunch and help fill out college applications after the last bell?
The top of these master listeners were recently recognized at the Capitol for the positive impact they have on children’s lives. A north Forsyth County resident was among the 40 — she even made it to the top 16 — honored by first lady Michelle Obama during a White House ceremony.
“Our teachers are always recognized, and our principals, but this is the first year we got to do that,” said Andi Hodgin.
Hodgin went through the same process as educators who become Teacher of the Year — nominations, applications, interviews, work samples.
The Forsyth Central High graduate works at Gwinnett County’s Lanier Middle, which is in nearby Sugar Hill. She said counselors from all over the country were in the top 40. Three were from Georgia.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize what we do,” Hodgin said. “We have our hands in every part of a school’s business. We do mental health and crisis intervention, obviously. We’re kind of the liability team. We get students ready for colleges and careers by helping with applications and coaching.
“We do teach. And we meet with parents. It’s both an administrative position and also teaching one on one.”
Not that teachers and other administration should not be praised for all they do, she said. Teachers are vital to a student’s success, but often they have 30 kids in their class and can’t afford the time to sit individually with each student for extended periods.
“People think we sit in our office all day and talk about feelings. We really make decisions that impact students’ lives,” Hodgin said.
She recently heard from a former student who told her Hodgin’s help in middle school prevented her from committing suicide. Now Hodgin is invited to her high school graduation.
“We deal with a lot of issues that are challenging and that get in the way,” she said. “If you don’t want to go to school because life’s not worth it, you’re not going to get enough out of it.”
Hodgin has been at Lanier Middle for eight years, recently scaling back to part time to be with her 4-month-old son. She previously worked for a counseling center in Forsyth County and the Department of Juvenile Justice in Cumming.
This was where she began visiting schools during cases. She said she thought she could find a way to help more kids, “not just a few.”
She said she loves where she works, as counseling middle school students never gets boring.
“The things I hear. I could write a book, and it would be hilarious,” she said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to their parents about things.”
To be recognized for that work by taking the trip to D.C. and meeting the first lady was “so inspirational.”
“She basically said we have to continue our work and be passionate. Make sure our kids know all their post-secondary options. Sometimes it can take a lot of courage,” Hodgin said. “She really just energized me to be honest and to be more passionate. To be my best for these kids each and every day.
“Having that face-time has a ripple effect that could lead them to land their dream job or be the first one to graduate from college [in their family]. We have to continue to have these discussions about being prepared.
“I got back and I was just running around hugging kids.”