Judi Hillier, guidance counselor at Jefferson Elementary School, was recently named North Dakota’s Elementary School Counselor of the Year by the North Dakota School Counselor Association.
Nominated by Jefferson Elementary School Principal, Troy Miller, Hillier was shocked when she heard she had won the award just a week before the NDSCA conference.
“Disbelief and surprise,” are what went through Hillier’s head when she received word she had won. She had assumed that her nomination had gotten lost in the mail. Anyway, she had daily things to worry about, so she didn’t think much about the nomination.
“There are a lot of counselors out there that are equal or better. They all work hard,” said Hillier.
Hillier, who has been at Jefferson for about four years, started her career as an elementary school teacher. She decided to get her master’s degree in counseling in 1976 at the urging of a friend, she finished her master’s in 1980 while still teaching.
Since interning, she has spent a total of 32 years as a guidance counselor for Valley City Public Schools.
Hillier likes to spend at least one day each week with children at each grade level covering three standards, academic standards, personal social standards, and career standards.
For all of her students, Hillier uses a program that teaches career awareness and helps children begin to identify what they want to be when they grow up. She teaches them to follow their passions and that it’s OK to change their minds.
Personal and social skills that Hillier emphasizes includes making friends, anger control, bullying, and last week’s focus; kindness.
Life skills Hillier introduces students to are study skills, and time management.
These skills are taught at every level, but are taught in a way that each age level can understand and enjoy.
This year Hillier brought author/folk singer Dennis Warner, who wrote the book and song Beads on One String, to Jefferson to help youngsters learn that even though they may look different, people are all really alike. Also recently at Jefferson, Hillier organized “Kindness Week” activities for students and introduced autism awareness to students.
Hillier likes to make her lessons fun using puppets, plays, and activities that get children involved.
“If it’s not something I enjoy and think is fun, how am I going to have the kids enjoy it and grab onto it. Kids to have that,” said Hillier. “I’ve said all along, school is fun. And if your brain doesn’t think it’s fun, you’re not going to learn.”
Hillier is proud of the work she does. “Jefferson has one of the top-ranking counseling programs in the state,” she said.
But her work is a labor of love because she loves the children she works with.
When Hillier isn’t working, she likes to read historic novels, gardening, taking walks, catching fish, and artesian bread-making.
She also likes spending time with her husband, Bill, a retired teacher.
Though the couple have no children of their own, Hillier claims to have 345 kids right now.
And she has no plans for retirement, though she’s eligible. “I’m on the one-year plan,” she said, laughing. Retirement is always at least one year away.