New Ritenour High School Counselor to be Honored as Counselor of the Year by St. Louis American
Walk into her cozy office in the Ritenour High School counseling area, and students will find inspirational words on the walls, and a welcoming smile and encouragement by the newest Husky counselor, Amber Mitchell.
Although she is new to the Husky family, her longtime commitment and passion for helping high school students through their transition at college recently has earned her the honor of Counselor of the Year as part of the St. Louis American’s 2019 Salute to Excellence in Education. She will be honored at a banquet and gala on Sept. 21 at America’s Center in St. Louis.
Mitchell has earned accolades by Southeast Missouri State University with the Counselor of the Year Award for her above-and-beyond dedication to high school students bound for college. Mitchell not only is committed to helping students with the application process, but continues supporting them to finish the enrollment process, make the transition to campus and then follows up regularly with them throughout their college experience.
But college-bound students aren’t the only ones needing Mitchell’s extra care. She often has been sought by students who need her to help them with the final stages of accepting jobs after high school or who need an extra push to complete the enlistment process with the military.
“My job doesn’t stop when my students graduate from high school,” said Mitchell. “I tell them I will see them through until they cross the stage at college. As a counselor, I don’t have traditional hours.”
Prior to joining the RHS counseling team, Mitchell was a pre-college coordinator for of the Bridge Program at University of Missouri-St. Louis for nine years. The program provides intensive college prep sessions that address how to be a competitive candidate in the college application process, ACT prep, soft skills and other support to help them be strong high school students who are prepared for the rigor of college.
While at UMSL, Mitchell recognized that after high school graduation, students didn’t know how to finalize their plans to start the next steps of life. She calls this the “summer melt phenomena.”
“I found that there were many kids who didn’t know what to do to make that final transition to college and career after graduation, and during that summer they got stuck because they didn’t have access to people who could help them with things like sign up for classes, get their transcripts, how to make their tuition payments online, sign up for orientation or even how to prepare for final interviews for jobs,” she said.
To fill that gap, Mitchell started the Summer Melt program, which was first connected with St. Louis Graduates High School to College Center, and later continued while she was a counselor at Jennings High School. She met with students throughout the summer to help them tie up loose ends to finish the process and make their post-graduation plans a reality.
“I want the students to know there is someone to help them navigate their journey,” she added. “That means that once they are in college, I do pop-ups where I show up on their campus, work connect with advisors and meet up with my students to make sure they are doing ok.”
Mitchell is known to check in with her students who attend Culver-Stockton, Southeast Missouri State University, Harris Stowe, St. Louis Community College, Tennessee State, UMSL, Maryville, Missouri Baptist, Fontbonne and St. Louis University.
“When I hear from some of my students by text, they will say ‘I’m fine, everything is good’ but then when I show up and meet with them, it’s another story. They still need some guidance but don’t know how to get that help or don’t know exactly where to find the resources.”
Ritenour High School Principal Jeff Marker said Mitchell brings a wealth of experience and passion to nurture students, and isn’t surprised she has earned regional accolades.
"Ms. Mitchell is a wonderful addition to our counseling team," said Marker. "The programs and ongoing support she has given to high school students in her previous roles in the St. Louis metro area clearly demonstrates her passion, dedication and innovation when it comes to reaching the needs of our youth. It's wonderful to know our own students now will directly benefit from what she has offered to others in our region."
Mitchell can empathize with students making a transition from high school to college. She remembers how lost she felt when trying to tackle the application process while in high school and then figuring out what to do once she got accepted and how to navigate the transition as a college freshman.
She remembers how helpful the UMSL Bridge program was for her while she was in high school and vowed to give back to the program once she was a college student. She completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees from UMSL – a bachelor’s in psychology and then two master degrees in counseling and adult higher education.
In her first month at Ritenour High School, Mitchell says she is excited about being part of a counseling team that has so much to offer to meet both the social-emotional needs of students and the college and career counseling services.
“It already feels like home here,” she said. “I love what RItenour does already for students. Everybody here works together from that social-emotional piece and addresses the whole student. As a counselor, that’s what I advocate for and one of the main reasons I came to Ritenour. It’s my calling.”