Mar 2, 2010 9:43 PM by Katie Stukey
GREAT FALLS - Public education was on the receiving end of nearly 20% of the federal stimulus bill that was passed last year, and in Montana, that money is paying the salaries of more than 1,000 public school professionals, including 34 in Great Falls.
For Theresa Bush, a counselor at Sacajawea Elementary School, the funding is allowing her to spend much more time getting to know her students at the Great Falls school.
Bush said, "From the time I'm here til the time I leave I'm with kids."
Quite a change from this time last year, when most days were broken up by a drive across town, as Bush fulfilled the role of counselor at multiple schools.
Rae Smith, the principal at Sacajawea, noted, "Last year it seemed like anytime anything big happened, Mrs. Bush was over at Whittier and I'd have to stop everything I was doing."
Bush commented, "It was a rush. Making sure you're here...you literally put your bags down and run into the classroom."
Classroom lessons like these have always been a key part of the counselor's role.
But being part-time, Bush says it was more difficult to get involved in crisis situations, ranging from divorce to deaths in the family, and even suicide prevention.
Bush explained, "I'd get here and they'd be like 'Mrs. Bush where were you? I needed you'. And my heart would just bleed because I'd be like 'I'm sorry I was at Whittier, I'm sorry I was at Sac'."
Smith noted, "Our number one goal is to make sure our kids are happy and healthy every day at school and our district has done that by giving us full-time counselors."
Bush said, "I'm here. I can be paged at any given moment and I can take care of whatever they need. Incredible investment."
But that full-time investment may be short lived, as stimulus funding runs out next year.
And for Mrs. Bush, budgetary constraints could once again mean less time here, and more time on the road between schools.
School officials are analyzing the budget to determine if they can maintain all of the counseling positions after next year. The state requires one counselor for every 400 students.
Click here to visit the ARRA's Recovery.gov website to see Montana-specific ARRA information.