By Jessica Peña-Diaz
Seventh-grade school counselor Isabel “Izzy” Parrado was given an incredible award this year: the gift of being honored at the White House and meeting first lady Michelle Obama. Why? Because in 2013 she was named “middle school counselor of the year” by the Florida School Counselor Association.
On Jan. 30 in Washington, she was recognized as one of the nation’s best counselors, receiving a framed award recognizing “your outstanding contributions in promoting the role of school counselors in Florida.” She toured the White House and enjoyed a three-hour reception there.
The first lady was very genuine, Parrado said. “She knew our plight,” she said. Counselors often are assigned other duties that keep them the tasks they’re trained for. And they typically have more than the caseload of 250 urged to help students “reach higher” and make sure 80 percent of high school graduates are ready for college, she said. For example, she’s responsible for 467 students at Okeeheelee Middle School, Parrado said.
The first lady told counselors that the national teachers of the year had long been invited to the White House to signal how important they are; this year, counselors were added.
“The more that I learned about our school counselors, the more I realized that often, America’s school counselors are truly the deciding factor in whether our young people attend college or not,” Michelle Obama told the counselors. “And in today’s global economy, higher education is essential for good jobs with good wages. You all know that. That is why my husband has set a goal that America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That’s what we’re working for.”
Parrado tries to use the time she has to make a difference.
She has good observation skills. Observing tells her that if she can be with a group of kids and sees they are not acting as they should, instead of taking them out one at a time and performing self-change, she takes them out as a group and performs group change. She believes that not only an individual can change, but that a whole group can change.
Parrado won’t be a guidance counselor her entire life. In fact, she says she wants to retire in a year and a half and run for state office.