By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Kenwood Academy High School Counselor Shelby Wyatt is one of five finalists that will fly to Washington, D.C., for the American School Counselor Association’s Counselor of the Year Award.
Wyatt, who has a background in business administration, began his career as a substitute teacher in 1987. He became a certified teacher and went on to earn his masters in psychology and his doctorate in counselor education from Northern Illinois University in 2000. In addition to being a counselor at Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., he is an adjunct professor at Argosy University on the subject of child and adolescent counseling.
After flying out for an in-person interview earlier this year, Wyatt will return to D.C. on Jan. 30 as part of National School Counseling Week. He plans to tour the sights and meet with his congressional representatives to discuss the importance of school counseling and education funding. The visit will culminate with a black-tie gala at which the 2013 School Counselor of the Year Award will be presented.
Dan Stasi, executive director of the Illinois School Counselor Association, nominated Wyatt for his dedicated work in helping students succeed in school, at home and in their communities. Stasi especially made note of Wyatt’s work with two programs he founded that focus on African American and Latino young men. Wyatt previously won an award from the Illinois School Counselor Association.
Wyatt is the founder of the Kenwood Academy Brotherhood, a school-based male mentoring program that works to increase graduation rates among African American and Latino students while helping them build leadership skills and focus on post secondary plans. He also created the Male Initiative Project, a partnership between Chicago Public Schools and DePaul University, for an annual seminar that empowers male students to take high school and their college and career plans more seriously.
Wyatt said during his years as a substitute teacher many students repeatedly came to him asking questions not just about school but about their home and personal lives. He said he returned to school to study psychology and counseling because he didn’t know how to answer their questions but wanted to help.
“Nothing has changed with the questions I’m asked,” Wyatt said. “Can’t get along with parents, sex, weed, school is boring – these are all normal questions that some parents may not want to answer.”
Wyatt said although the questions are often the same the platforms and foundations have changed.
“Bullying used to be a threat to beat you up at 3:15 but now it takes place on Twitter,” Wyatt said. “The family structure has also changed. I had both of my parents, went to school everyday and [attended] church and I just assumed everyone had this structure until a kid told me he was a middle of the road student – that means he can be an A student or a thug.”
Wyatt said that statement is what inspired his research on finding proactive strategies of accountability for young men who consider themselves “middle of the road students.”
“I found that programs for Black males were at community centers so the challenge is you have to get them to the centers,” Wyatt said. “So I thought why not have the programs in schools, which is where they spend so much of their time – bring it where they are.”
Since the implementation of the Kenwood Academy Brotherhood, graduation rates and college matriculation rates have increased. In February the program became a non-profit organization and Wyatt travels across the country assisting in the creation of school-based male mentoring organizations.