Student helps school through Texas storms, virus
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Students can face practicum curveballs, and this year there were plenty of wicked ones.
Amanda Sullivan found herself in a hotel room because her Fort Worth, Texas, home was without power, and yet she stepped up to the plate.
The Grand Canyon University master’s student in School Counseling called students’ families in Tanglewood Elementary School after February’s winter storm in Texas caused millions to lose power in their homes and go without water because pipes froze.
“I helped reach out to every single parent. We asked them if they were OK and if they needed access to water because Texas was providing it,” she said. “They were so thankful the counseling department called, and it warmed my heart to reach out to those parents.”
She also soothed the children’s worries.
“A lot of them would say it was scary and they had to go to a relatives’ house and didn’t have water,” she said. “I told them it’s OK to have those feelings, and as long as they were with their family, they were safe.”
Lindsey Castro, the school counselor, said Sullivan saved the day.
“I’m so basic with technology, so I sent her a list of everyone we needed to call, and she turned around and sent back a beautiful Excel spreadsheet,” Castro said. “I wish I had more of her in my life.”
It wasn’t the first time she stepped up.
Castro’s 10-month-old child got COVID-19, and she was out for a portion of the semester. Sullivan seamlessly took over some of her counseling duties while doing her full-time job as a kindergarten teacher at the school and studying for her master’s degree.
It wasn’t an easy task with students and teachers out because of COVID-19 exposures while some learned in person and others online. One day she had only three students in her classroom. Her teaching styles had to change meet virtual demands while serving those attending school and handling the worries a school counselor addresses.
“I thought wearing a mask would be hard for them, but they have been resilient through all of this,” Sullivan said of the students. “I’m impressed that students have made it a part of everyday life. And even when they came back after school closures, they came back with the same excitement for learning.
“As a future school counselor, I hope to help them keep that same enthusiasm about learning.”
It wasn’t the first time graduate-level counseling students went the extra mile during the past year. Dr. Kimberly Grigg, GCU’s Program Co-Chair in School Counseling, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, last summer described in GCU Today several examples of students who served meals or helped out their schools and communities during the tough year of COVID.
Sullivan said GCU also helped her ease tough times, which included some personal issues.
“Because it’s a Christian university, we can share spiritually, and it really helped me keep my faith strong,” she said. “It’s nice to read a Bible verse that is posted for class and talk about how our religion helps us through.”
Sullivan has plenty of experience dealing with life’s curves. She delayed attending college until age 30 to raise two children before studying for an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas Permian Basin, driving an hour each way dodging tumbleweeds on west Texas roads.
She went on to become a counselor for male prison inmates, which opened her eyes to making a real difference in someone’s life, before working at an early childhood intervention agency. That led her to teaching, and she’s in her third year at Tanglewood.
The school is nearing a sense of normalcy and Sullivan is down to one virtual class, but she looks forward to one day combining her skills in teaching and counseling to continue to make a difference.
“She’s just a lovely person. She offers to help at all times of the day even though she knows it will add one more thing to her plate,” Castro said. “She wants to be out there helping the students and helping the community and her team.”
Sullivan’s GCU practicum provided valuable experience.
“It prepared me for a future crisis in a school and how counselors play a role in the well-being of teachers and students and making sure the community is healthy,” she said.
When the storms of life hit, Sullivan wants all to know: “A counselor is always available.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764