Audio: 2021 School Counselor of the Year is from Missouri

Olivia Carter is the 2021 School Counselor of the Year, Missouri School Counselor of the Year, and the school counselor at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Carter, who has been a counselor for ten years, says she thinks she was chosen for the national award after helping her elementary school reduce in-school discipline referrals from about 700 to 250 in one year. She says she is working to implement the measures throughout the district.



She provides school counseling services to the suburban school’s 304 students, K–4, 100% of whom receive free or reduced lunch. “Nothing speaks louder than data,” said Carter. “When I use data to create annual student outcome goals, it drives the program and helps me create intentional interventions.”  As a member of her school’s leadership team, Carter used behavior data to encourage the implementation of a more trauma-informed approach at Jefferson Elementary School, which led to a “trauma-informed transformation” at the school. “She has single-handedly brought trauma-informed practices to our school and built a team of educators on our trauma team that has helped transform our school and better fit the needs of our students,” said Zech Payne, assistant principal.

Carter taught teachers about trauma and trauma responses, sparking an interest among staff members for further training in anti-biased and anti-racist teaching, restorative practices, and self-regulation. She also created “Trauma-Informed Tuesdays” a newsletter focused on teacher wellness and best practices related to building resilience. “The cultural shift in the building toward all students feeling loved and respected, as well as teachers’ time being respected and valued, is palpable,” she said.

“Quite simply, Olivia has a gift to reach our most traumatized students,” said colleague Kandee Oliver, the school’s administrative assistant. “Creating and building trust, chipping away at hurts and heartaches, inspiring and uplifting, Olivia pieces together an environment for our students that surrounds them like a comfortable old quilt.”

Needs assessment data from across the district showed that families wanted more emphasis on career exploration at the elementary level, so when a community partner reached out to Jefferson Elementary School about designing a project around financial literacy and giving back to the community, Carter saw it as an opportunity to align to Missouri’s school counseling standards and ASCA’s Mindsets & Behaviors Student Standards related to career exploration. Through this project, fourth-grade students completed an interest inventory and had an immersive experience with someone in their chosen field, culminating in a career fair for all students.

Carter has been a school counselor since 2012 and is an ASCA U School Counseling Data Specialist. She received her master’s degree in school counseling and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southeast Missouri State University. She is a member of ASCA, the Missouri School Counselor Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis and is a member and president-elect of the Southeast Missouri School Counselor Association.