By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK - After his first year as a full-time school counselor, Timothy Luikart has already been recognized as an "Emerging Leader" by the region's counselor association.
Luikart received the"Emerging Leader" award during the Central Valley Counselors Association's recent banquet. The association serves and supports counselors in Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta, Highland, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.
It wasn't until a few years ago that Luikart even realized he wanted to be a school counselor. For some time, he considered working in youth ministry, but decided it wasn't something he wanted to pursue full time.
After considering teaching for a living, Luikart still wasn't convinced, so he began volunteering as a counselor at an inner city school in San Diego.
"I loved it," Luikart said, sitting in his comfortably inviting office in Peter Muhlenberg Middle School. "I really realized then that supporting kids and forming those relationships were my passion."
Luikart started applying to programs, and ended up making a cross-country move to attend James Madison University -- he and his wife were ready for the drastic "change of pace."
During his time in school, Luikart was able to work with students in elementary, middle and high schools. Although he originally thought he'd like to focus on high school students, the experiences changed his mind.
After graduating last May with a master's in education and school counseling license, Luikart wound up at Peter Muhlenberg.
"Middle school students ... yes, they can be a little crazy, but maybe that's why I love working with this age group," he said.
Luikart admitted that his first year at a school started off a little rocky. Without giving specifics, he said a tragedy occurred which left students and staff alike in need of support. Outside of the school, the counselor also had some personal things to deal with.
"It's just been a busy year," he said. "You know, making sure the students and staff were all right, but then also remembering to take some time for myself."
The tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., also prompted a "stressful" time at the school.
Luikart said the school shooting resulted in a number of students feeling unsafe, and it was up to him to reassure them that everything would be all right.
Of course, there were also the day-to-day trials and tribulations that every middle school aged student experiences. Luikart said it might seem easy to tell a recently dumped sixth-grader to move on, and that there are "other fish in the sea," but he knows there's more to it than that.
"There is so much change that happens in these three years, and it can be such an awkward time," he said. "But to these kids, a lot of their world is made up of what happens in this building, and we need to remember that."
Luikart tries to remain calm and laid back with students, and said he hopes to "just be real" with them.
Outside of the school, he has taken a leadership role with the Central Valley Counselors Association. As treasurer, he is required to attend events and manage finances. Currently, he is the treasurer-elect for the Virginia Alliance for School Counselors.
Looking back on the whirlwind of a year, Luikart said it was always important that he be involved in the school and association. He's looking forward to coming up with new ideas for next year during his summer break.
He's already got an idea in mind.
Luikart would like to start either a class or after-school group focused on leadership skills for male students. He knows from hearing from students that stereotypes for "how boys are supposed to be" can set in at an early age.
"These guys see and hear about the, you know, big strong jock who doesn't really know that much," he said. "But there's more to being a man than that, and I want them to realize how many opportunities are out there. I just want them to be the best men than they can be."
Luikart also credited teachers, staff and administration with supporting him in his role as a school counselor. He said he never expected his first job to be at a school and in a community that revolved around supporting students - something that has led him to become "quite attached" to the area.
"No matter how much I sometimes feel like an island, I know I'm not because there are so many other people here supporting each other," he said. "Everyone works so well together to support the students, and I'm so thankful for that."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org