Brooke native, Ohio honoree meets Mrs. Obama

As Ohio’s School Counselor of the Year, Brooke County native Kelley Richardson Mills, center, was recognized with other state counselors of the year by former first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Jan. 6. Joining in honoring the school counselors were Richard Wong, president of the American School Counselor Association; and Julie Baumgart, who chairs the organization’s board of directors. — Contributed

Kelley Richardson Mills knows the role of a school counselor often is overlooked by adults, but the Brooke County native recently received attention for her efforts in the job at Austintown Elementary School in Mahoning County, Ohio.

As both the state’s Elementary School Counselor of the Year and School Counselor of the Year, she was one of 50 state school counselors of the year invited to be recognized by then first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Jan. 6.

The 50 were chosen for the honor by the American School Counselor Association for their creative school counseling innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership skills and contributions to student enhancement.

A 2000 graduate of Brooke High School, Mills graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology from Bethany College in 2004 and a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of the Southwest in 2009.

Obama has recognized the state counselors of the year in each of the last two years. Her address to the counselors was her last public speech as first lady.

“She said she knows as counselors, our jobs aren’t always recognized,” Mills said. “That was really neat, just to be recognized by someone in her power.”

Mills noted the Obama launched the Better Make Room campaign to encourage youth to further their educations after high school, whether through a professional training program, community college or four-year college or university.

The campaign involves a variety of organizations and media outlets to share details about preparing for college entrance examinations, the procedure for applying for federal student aid, scholarship sources and other relevant information.

Mills said during her three-day visit to Washington she and others heard from Don Yu, the program’s director, and how social media can be used to connect youth to professionals in the fields that interest them.

“I think it’s cool they are using these things to get youth excited about thinking about the future,” she said.

Mills and the other counselors also toured the White House.

“It was beautiful,” she said, adding the Blue Room was a highlight for her because of its elegance and because it was where she met Obama.

Mills said she was impressed by the forthrightness of the Obama.

“She seems like a genuine and down to earth person,” she said, adding the same can be said of Connie Britton, star of television’s “Friday Night Lights” and “Nashville,” who was among several celebrities and political leaders on hand.

Others included U.S. Secretary of Education John King, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, singer Usher and Bravo talk show host Andy Cohen.

“It was a whirlwind weekend. They treated us like celebrities,” said Mills, who said the counselors also attended a black tie gala at historic Union Station.

While she enjoyed the experience, Mills was happy to return to her school, where she has served as counselor for eight years.

The school is attended by about 1,200 children in grades kindergarten through second grade, and she has gotten to know many of them personally.

“My favorite part of the job is the positive response I receive from them,” she said. “They know I’m a person they can come to if they have a problem.”