Respect, friendship key pillars in honored school counselor’s mission

FRANKFORD – Like clockwork, Jan Bomhardt’s day as school counselor at John M. Clayton Elementary begins with student drop-off.

Time-wise, it lasts 45 minutes. Drop-off doubles as a safety precaution and opportunity to mingle and chat with parents.

“It’s my chance to check in with some parents and also kids. You know, ‘How is everybody doing? … and things like that,” she says. “It makes me more visible and accessible to parents.”

POST COUNSELOR Bomhardt with kids

John M. Clayton Elementary School counselor Jan Bomhardt, shown here with Clayton fourth graders Haley Sockriter, left, and Olivia Johnson during the last day of Red Ribbon Spirit Week last October, was recently named the 2015 Delaware Elementary School Counselor of the Year, as chosen by the Delaware School Counselors Association. (Special to the Sussex County Post).

From there, it can be group gatherings, large or small, or individual counseling sessions.

She tries to leave pockets of time open in case of “an emergency” that needs to be addressed “right away.”

Like snowflakes, no two days are ever the same.

“No, they never are,” she said. “My day is whatever a kid needs to get through their day and to continue to be successful.”
There are a couple constant staples in her game-plan to provide the best learning environment possible at Clayton Elementary – a National Title I Blue Ribbon School in the Indian River School District.

One is friendship.

Another is respect.

“One thing is learning how to be a friend: How to make new friends, how to keep friendships going and how to apologize when you’ve made a mistake in a friendship … and how to rebuild and start over,” said Ms. Bomhardt. “We are truly very lucky here in that we do not see the bullying issues and reports that are out. Even though it’s a big topic on the tip of everybody’s tongue, our kids really do get along very well. They treat each other with respect. We spend a lot time from kindergarten early on teaching them what respect looks like, what it sounds like and what it truly is.”

Recently, Ms. Bomhardt garnered respect and recognition as the 2015 Delaware Elementary School Counselor of the Year, as chosen by the Delaware School Counselors Association.

“It is good to know that there was a lot of support here in the building for me, to actually nominate me for that, and that the state recognizes that we are doing a lot of new things and innovative things and counselors are important … and our job means something – everyday,” Ms. Bomhardt said. “There is no greater joy for me than to watch kids be successful and to celebrate that when I have high schoolers coming back and asking me for college recommendation letters and helping them fill out college applications. Just being a part of that process for them eight, nine years from now, knowing that what I am doing now means something and will continue to mean something to the kids in our future.”

A southern Pennsylvania native, Ms. Bomhardt graduated from Bloomsburg University in 1991.

A job interview with the Seaford School District bought her to Delaware. She came to the Indian River district as a fourth-grade special education team teacher at Frankford Elementary (re-named Clayton) and then moved to fifth grade. Armed with a master’s degree in counseling, she has been the school’s fulltime counselor for the last four years.

Ms. Bomhardt, employed in the Indian River School District for 14 years, serves on numerous committees, including the district’s attendance committee. She is also co-chair of the PTO and involved in the Positive Behavior Support initiative.

Clayton Elementary’s K-5 enrollment is about 640. About 83 percent are free and reduced lunch.

As school counselor she wears many hats.

“I spend a lot of my time with my teachers and parents planning for kids, making sure that we can keep them successful,” Ms. Bomhardt said. “We do have some very explicit needs here as far as food and clothing. I spend a lot of time making sure I get those donations in the door and back in their hands as soon as possible. I have a strong relationship with our outside community.”

“My Special Education background really helps when kids are struggling in the classroom as far as making modifications and accommodations …,” she said.

Home alone

Plans are in place for students who sometimes are left home alone.

“Kids that are home alone, it’s just trying to find a way to get organized and keep their stuff organized so that when there is not an adult at home we have that plan,” Ms. Bomhardt said. “We are organizing folders and notebooks and making sure they are getting it in the right place and they have a plan at home for mom and dad to sign papers.”

Celebrate success

“We celebrate our successes here a lot,” said Ms. Bomhardt.

Success is measured and rewarded with quarterly awards assembly.

As rewards, students earn “Clayton Cash” redeemable at the in-school store in the library. The store is managed by a handicapped gentleman employed by Easter Seals, which is “really a neat experience for the kids,” Ms. Bomhardt said.

Cause for ‘Alarm’

Ms. Bomhardt has instituted an alarm clock projects targeting students who literally miss the bus.

“They are old enough to be getting themselves up but they are not. So I teach them how to use an alarm clock,” said Ms. Bomhardt. “A local group of women … they’ll bring me like 8 to 10 alarm clocks at the beginning of the year, which is wonderful. By the end of the year I am usually down to one.”

Addressing grief

Counseling sometimes addresses student grief when family members pass — or move.

“Sometimes for a student if parents are splitting up and they are leaving it’s almost as if they have passed. They do grieve in the process. That parent, even though they are not dead … they are still leaving their life,” Ms. Bomhardt said.

Family ties

Ms. Bomhardt resides in Dagsboro. She and her husband recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Their daughter, a junior at Indian River High School, is active in travel softball and their son is a freshman at IRHS.

What’s next?

As Delaware’s elementary-level honoree, Ms. Bomhardt will enter the national phase.

Paperwork and video submissions are all work due in August. The Top 10 finalists from the country will be announced in October. Those finalists go to Washington, D.C. for interviews, from which five finalists will remain in the running for national honors.

“We’re going to create a video and turn in an insane amount of essays. That’s OK. It’s all worth it,” said Ms. Bomhardt. “In this little building (Clayton Elementary) – National Title I Blue Ribbon School – I’ll tell you we are just banging it out of the park.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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