By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- Jennifer Foutch is like most school guidance counselors. The Creekside Middle School counselor puts in hard days and affects students in ways that she sometimes can see and other times can't. But something about her was different enough that the Florida School Counselor Association named her its 2012 Middle School Counselor of the Year.
"I'm a hard worker," she said. "I'm very dedicated. Those are my kids. I don't have children of my own, so those 387 students are my children."
Ms. Foutch is a seventh-grade guidance counselor at Creekside. She was there when it opened 12 years ago. Before then she'd been a guidance counselor at Silver Sands Middle. Additionally, she was a math teacher for six years. She moved to the area from Illinois.
"My very first group of students in Illinois -- some were a rough group," she said. "I found I connected with them. I didn't know if it's because they were my first kids, or if they needed me."
Principal John Cash, who started at Creekside this year, said he's inherited a lot of good talent, but Ms. Fourtch holds a special place for him.
"Jennifer epitomizes what's good about counselors and schools," he said. "Jennifer puts kids first."
Ms. Foutch said for all the perpetual clamoring about innovations in education, she's found the biggest thing is just listening to children.
"Sometimes, (they want to say) something about their dog," she said. "Sometimes it's, 'Oh, have you seen this movie?'"
However seemingly small, she said educators and parents who take time to listen to children gain the greatest influence with them.
However hard Ms. Foutch has worked to help students succeed, she's had those who haven't. One former student ended up incarcerated.
"I went to the jail to sit down with him," Ms. Foutch said. "He already had a child as a teenager. That was awful. I cried and cried and cried when I left."
In recent years, Ms. Foutch said Creekside and other schools are having to help more families on the financial razor's edge.
"I'm getting more calls (from parents) over the last couple years about what can you do to help us with Thanksgiving, or help us with Christmas," she said. "I've seen a huge difference there in the number of parents who ask for help."
But moments like those, she said, are balanced by joyous ones. The counselor said the highlight of her year is the school's annual Washington, D.C. trip. She said students frequently amaze her when they start rattling off historic facts about the nation's capital, or spontaneously explain how the Constitution works as a governing document.
"You just say, 'Wow, they get it,'" Ms. Fourtch said.
She received the award on Nov. 2 at the Florida School Counselor Association's annual banquet in St. Petersburg.