A guidance counselor at Great Mills High School asked a class last week if they think it’s more important to make a lot of money or be happy.
It was a split response, but Crystal Joseph explained to the students that it’s more important to work for happiness. It was something she could relate to.
“I love what I do and I’m happy to come into work,” she said. “If you love what you do, it’s not work.”
Joseph was recently nominated by a former student for the LifeChanger of the Year award. The national award is given to K-12 educators and school employees who makes positive impacts on students. Joseph was among about 800 school employees across the country nominated this year, according to a spokesperson for the LifeChanger program.
Winners are selected in the spring, and have a chance at a cash prize.
Her nominator was Caroline Payne, a former student at Chopticon High School who often sought Joseph for guidance when she worked there.
“I did not have a lot of role models in my life, so I naturally gravitated toward her positive spirit,” the 2013 graduate said in her nomination statement. “In a time when mental illness seems to be at an all-time high for children and young adults, I think it is so important that kids have more access to in school counselors like Ms. Joseph.”
Joseph, who graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, knew she wanted to be a guidance counselor when she taught at Lettie Dent Elementary School. That school’s guidance counselor showed Joseph everything the job could be, which was different from her own experiences with her high school counselor.
“We just met with the counselor when we needed to apply to college,” Joseph said. “It’s not someone we met with regularly.”
While Joseph was teaching, she went back to school to get her master’s degree in school counseling through Johns Hopkins University at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California.
Jospeh, a St. Mary’s Ryken High School alumna, said she knew she wanted to work with high school students.
“They have so much personality and at this age, it’s a critical age because you’re preparing them for adulting — the next step out of high school,” she said.
Joseph worked at Chopticon High School for seven years and transferred to Great Mills at the beginning of this school year. Despite her short time there, she and her co-worker, Wanda Duran, said it feels like she’s been there much longer.
Duran described Joseph as “fantastic,” “wonderful” and “caring. Her personality is so bubbly, and she attracts the kids because of it,” she said.
Duran, the secretary of the guidance office, said that can sometimes be a problem because the students start coming to the office just to hang out.
The 13-year-employee said she remembers a critical time when Joseph helped the office. It was after the March 20 shooting at Great Mills High School last year — months before Joseph officially joined the staff.
“She came in and took charge,” Duran said. “So when I heard she was coming [to work here], I was so excited, because I was drawn to her from the beginning.”
The shooting occurred during the time when students were registering for the next school year’s classes. The guidance counseling office needed assistance during the difficult time as students sought help coping with the shooting, which left two students dead, including the shooter, and another injured.
“She’s not one to twiddle her thumbs,” Duran said. “She has to be doing.”
Duran said Joseph and the rest of the staff make Great Mills a wonderful place to work.
“I think the tragedy last year just brought us closer together,” Duran said.
Joseph said the job of a guidance counselor has changed since she graduated from high school in 2000, and social media is a big reason why.
The 36-year-old said when she was in school and a student had a fight, argument or disagreement with a classmate, he or she could go home and be done with it until the next school day.
“These kids don’t have that luxury because everything is on social media, so they have no way of escaping the gossip and the drama,” she said of today’s children. “It’s always right there.”
Joseph said more students are struggling with mental illness now. She wondered if it’s more of a problem today, or if it’s more accepted and talked about than it was in the past.
Other challenging parts of the job can be motivating students, increasing attendance and finishing all the tasks on her to-do list before 3:15 p.m. each day. “Writing a report takes a back seat to a student that’s upset and needs help de-escalating or working through a problem,” she said.
Joseph said her nomination for the LifeChanger of the Year award was a reminder that she picked the right career, and a motivator to keep up the good work.
“We just feel like we’re being ourselves,” she said about being a guidance counselor. “But we have an impact that we don’t even realize.”
If she wins an award, Jospeh said she’d be in shock, adding that either way, the nomination was enough of an honor.