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Norris Middle School Teacher named 2021 Nebraska School Counselor of the Year

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 6:56 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - We often think of teachers and parents on those front lines. However, there is another resource, school counselors.

One school counselor from Norris Middle School received a great honor for helping students be successful. Giovanna Zermeno never knows what to expect when walking into work each day.

“Every day is a new thing,” she said.

As a school counselor at Norris Middle School, Zermeno begins her day by greeting students, and then she tackles her daily to-do list.

“We are available, we do lessons, we help in the cafeteria,” said Zermeno. “We help with anything that kind of comes up with students. But also, we try to provide programs for the whole building and just supporting teachers as well.”

Add to her list career search and college prep. Also, in partnership with Boystown, she helps parents with a common-sense parenting class in Spanish.

“They use to come into the building,” she said. “And we would provide the space, the food, and the childcare and they provided the lessons.”

However, once the pandemic hit, students nor parents were coming into the school. While Zermeno’s to-do list didn’t change, the way she got it done, did.

“Parents and students would feel comfortable to be like, ‘Ms. Zermeno, I don’t see my classes, I don’t know how to log in, tell me how to join,’” said Zermeno. “And then I had to learn, as well”

Her biggest challenge was connecting with students who she could no longer see in person. She conducted more home visits in 2020 than ever before.

“If it’s attendance, we kind of just see what is going on,” she said. “‘Is there something we can help with? What is the obstacle for you not attending or not joining?’”

Sometimes, parents just needed help with technology, or the family needed internet.

“As a district, we adapted and found a way to help the families,” said Zermeno.

And in turn, she adapted to help her students be successful.

“She is truly one of a kind,” said Principal Dr. Carrie Carr. “You listen to her talk about the things she does every day. It’s absolutely that, and she goes beyond that just to build these incredible connections with kids.”

And this is why Zermeno was named the 2021 Nebraska School Counselor of the Year. Dr. Carr surprised Zermeno with the news.

“She asked me to go to the library to meet with some teachers,” said Zermeno. “And then I come in. It was a big thing. My family was there, the Superintendent was there. I just had so many emotions. I was just surprised, speechless. I was appreciative, I was honored.”

However, she has not forgotten about her to-do list. Now she’s taking it on, both in-person and online, as most students are back in school full time.

“I think it helps them feel like things are getting back to normal and I see them a little bit more talkative,” said Zermeno. “They’re smiling more, even though you don’t see their faces, you can see it in their eyes.”

Zermeno will represent the state of Nebraska at the American School Counselor Association’s School Counselor of the Year Gala in Washington, DC February 2022.

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