Atholton counselor earns state honors

October 24, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Early last week, Atholton High School guidance counselor Ingrid Morton received a letter from a former student now attending Syracuse University.

The student said he was doing well in his first year in college and signed off by saying, "I miss you and I love you."

That kind of affection for Morton from students and colleagues alike is common around Atholton, where she has been doling out advice and guiding students toward their goals for the past 18 years.

In recognition of her work, Morton was named Maryland State High School Counselor of the Year this month by the Maryland School Counselor Association.

Earlier this year, Morton, 57, was recognized as the Howard County High School Counselor of the Year. As the countywide winner, Morton competed with 23 others for the state award.

"I never thought anything would come out of it," Morton said. "I never even gave it another thought. Something like this is humbling, especially when it is presented by your peers. It's the highest honor of anyone's career to get something like that."

Those who know and work with Morton say there isn't a more deserving person. They describe her as a tireless, compassionate student advocate.

"She's the quintessential guidance counselor," said Liz Gates, Atholton's registrar, who nominated Morton for the countywide award with guidance office secretary Charlotte Bernhardt. "She does her job with such grace."

Added Bernhardt: "She's just a very caring person. She looks into the children not only for what she can do for them but for the whole family. She's had children with family problems. One particular family was very needy, and at Christmas time she made sure they had presents for the whole family."

After raising her two sons, Morton wanted to go back to a profession that dealt with students, and counseling appealed to her. She had taught elementary school in New Jersey from 1969 to 1970, before her first child was born.

Morton, who lives in Columbia with her husband, Richard, began working in Atholton's guidance office in 1986 after completing a two-year federal apprenticeship program in Howard County schools and receiving a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Loyola College.

"Every day is different. That's what makes it exciting," she said. "The kids start here as ninth-graders; they are a little timid. Then watching them as seniors ... it's an amazing experience to watch them grow."

Over the past 18 years, Morton has helped students juggle class schedules, tackle college applications and deal with family issues and peer pressure, including underage drinking. Morton also has coordinated Howard County's college fair at Atholton for the past 16 years, which brings together more than 100 college representatives and thousands of students and parents.

With three other guidance counselors at Atholton, Morton works with about 300 students.

"I listen, and I try not to be judgmental," she said. "And I care a lot about the students."

One of the students is Sonja Lilley, a senior who has been under Morton's guidance since her sophomore year.

Morton helped Lilley craft a senior-year schedule that allows her to take rigorous AP courses while holding down a weekday internship. Lilley said Morton is also helping her narrow down choices for college.

"She really cares," Lilley said. "If I have any question or need guidance, I could come here. Not only will she give you advice, but give you all the perspectives."

Atholton Principal Constance Lewis said it is not unusual for Morton to support a student outside of school.

In one instance, Morton encouraged a special-education student to stick with his work-study job by visiting him at the bingo parlor where he worked, Lewis said.

"Ingrid went there several times to play bingo and see how he was doing," she said.

"She's probably one of the most caring individuals that I have ever seen," Lewis said. "She never gives up on a child."

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