Willis named state counselor of the year

Lakeside Junior High counselor Lauren Willis has been named Arkansas School Counselor Association's Arkansas Junior High Counselor of the Year.

Willis has been a counselor at Lakeside since the school opened seven years ago. She is in her eighth year in the district.

“I split time at the Archer Center, George Junior High and Hellstern Middle School my first year in Springdale,” Willis said. “Then Michael Shepherd (Lakeside principal) took a gamble on a one-year counselor and hired me when the school opened. I owe him a lot. He gave me the opportunity to create a counseling center program to benefit students on the east side of Springdale.”

A graduate of the University of Arkansas with a degree in finance, Willis took an unusual path to her counseling career. Shortly after finishing her undergraduate work at the UA, she moved to Denver, Colorado to sell real estate.

“I had lived in Fayetteville since birth and I wanted to have some life experiences,” Willis explained. “I moved to Denver and only knew one person there. There were times when I felt alone and wondered what I was doing but overall it was a great experience. I got to travel a lot and saved enough money to pay for my graduate education.”

Before leaving for Denver, Willis worked on a Big Red Bucket Food Drive involving Jefferson Elementary in Fayetteville. Even though she wanted to get away for a while, it was working with the non-profit that allowed her to discover her passion.

“While working on that food drive I realized what I wanted to do,” Willis said. “I wanted to help kids who need it the most.”

She returned to Northwest Arkansas and earned her counseling degree from the UA. She knew she wanted to work in Springdale and was happy to secure her first position before moving to Lakeside. She said she couldn’t be happier.

“I love being able to advocate for students who don’t yet know they have a voice in this world,” said Willis. “I love the junior high age. Every day is different and that is exciting. Springdale is the only district among the big four (Bentonville, Rogers, Fayetteville and Springdale) that still combines eighth and ninth graders.

“I have worked to get Lakeside eighth graders the opportunity to earn credits toward graduation before they get into the ninth grade. The courses are in art, family consumer science, computer business applications and foreign languages. That has been very rewarding.”

Willis’ rewarding work has led to the reward of being Regional Junior High Counselor of the Year. State honors will be announced in the spring. Willis, along with all the counselors in the district, are another reason Springdale Public Schools are #THEChoice.