RCHS Counselor Wins Top DCSD Apple Award
Mike Sullivan has been a high school counselor with the Douglas County School District (DCSD) for nearly two decades. This year, he was recognized with the District’s top honor at the Apple Awards: Secondary Educator of the Year.
The Apple Awards “honor exceptional DCSD educators and staff who are inspiring a love of learning in their students and trailblazing innovation in our schools,” according to the DCSD website.
The awards are given through the Foundation for Douglas County Schools. Two representatives from each school are nominated annually. Nominations can be from community members or school staff. Winners in five categories are chosen by a Foundation committee from a pool of finalists.
Sullivan has been at Rock Canyon High School (RCHS) since 2011. His path to the school counseling office meandered, but he’s always enjoyed working with teenagers. First a high school science teacher, then a youth minister, later Sullivan and his wife moved to South Africa where he taught in a village school. After returning to the U.S., he “really spent some time discerning [his] career path and felt school counseling was the perfect fit for being able to work with teenagers in a meaningful way,” Sullivan said.
“As a school counselor, I have the unique opportunity to get to know students on a very personal level. Often, I view my job as planting seeds with students. Sometimes I don’t always get to see those seeds grow. However, I feel very privileged to be able to journey with my students whether they aspire to go to Harvard University or if they just need somebody to walk alongside them during their darkest times.”
Sullivan acutely knows that many of his students have incredibly difficult situations in their lives. “Often my job is to help them process and cope with those things, but it’s hard knowing that many of those difficult situations may follow them for years. I can only hope that I can be someone in their life that offers hope and stability for the limited time I have with them,” Sullivan lamented.
In addition to guiding, listening and mentoring, Sullivan created a junior-level class at RCHS where students can build a safe community of connections and focus on goals. It’s called the Phoenix class, and like the mythical bird, students can rise from their ashes and become stronger than they were before.
Outside of school, Sullivan is still at school. A lifelong learner, he hopes to continue teaching at University of Denver as an adjunct professor for master’s students in school counseling.
Winning the Apple Award “was one of the most humbling experiences I have been through,” said Sullivan. He recognized how many amazing educators there are. “I have worked side by side with so many of them.” Sullivan is privileged to work alongside the other 180 counselors in DCSD. He said, “Many of them have been inspirations and mentors to me. I know often the good work of these people does not get noticed or rewarded on the level they deserve. So, when I won the award, I really thought about how many incredible people were equally or even more deserving of that honor. I really think counselors are the heart of our District, and I am so honored to be able to be a part of it.”
By Celeste McNeil; photo courtesy of Mike Sullivan