A Carmel Elementary School counselor was surprised Friday when Cherokee School District officials showed up at the school to announce she won the title of 2014 District Counselor of the Year.
But Elizabeth “Liz” Ray counsels more than just the students of Carmel Elementary School, she’s the counselor for the school’s entire community, said Carmel Principal Dr. Keith Bryant.
“I think the world of her, and all of the staff thinks the world of her,” Bryant said. “Even when I’m having a bad day, I can turn to her for wisdom.”
Cherokee County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower presented Ray with the award and a bouquet of roses at a brunch reception provided by the school.
Ray’s husband, Chuck, and her mother-in-law, Molly Ray, joined her colleagues at the celebration to congratulate her.
“What a phenomenal career,” Hightower said as he presented Ray with the award. “She cares deeply about every student and understands that if you don’t focus on a child’s self-esteem and help him feel better about himself, he’ll never succeed.”
Ray qualified for the award by being nominated as the Counselor of the Year for the Woodstock Innovation Zone, which includes the Woodstock High School and its feeder middle schools and elementary schools.
A panel of veteran educators selected Ray as the Cherokee County Counselor of the Year from the six eligible zone winners, and Ray will now compete for the statewide title of Georgia Counselor of the Year.
Ray began her career as an educator in 1980 and has worked both as a counselor and a teacher.
She joined the district in 2002 as a fifth-grade teacher at Carmel Elementary and transitioned to her role as counselor in 2007. During her tenure at Carmel, she has served many roles including Carmel Ambassador Sponsor and Response to Intervention Chair, as well as on committees including Building Leadership Team, Positive Behavior, 504 and the School Council. The Positive Behavior Committee recently achieved prestigious National School of Character recognition for Carmel Elementary.
In addition to counseling individual students, parents and staff, she initiates small group counseling for areas of need, which has included topics such as changing families, anger management, responsibility and organization, grief, social skills, friendship, anxiety and self-esteem.
An initiative that Ray said she’s especially proud of is the Student Welcome Bag Program, which she began six years ago. Her newest initiative is the Ladies Lunch Group, which plays host to recommended girls from the fourth and fifth grade for lunch and lessons to help develop their social skills and friendships.
Bryant said although these girls meet in a group setting only once a week, Ray checks on them throughout the week.
“By doing so,” he said, “she demonstrates to her students that she cares about them collectively and individually and knows their future is bright as long as they continue to strive to reach their full potential in all that they attempt.”
Colleagues and parents, including teacher Denise Karel, praised Ray for the support she’s shown them and for how she’s changed their hearts through her selfless approach to serving students.
“She has taken food, household items, bedding and coats to our students when they were needed. She mentions these trips to no one,” Karel said, noting she learned of these trips when Ray helped a student in her class. “It is truly a blessing to have Liz Ray at Carmel.”