Position: School Counselor
School: Elkhorn Middle School
School District: Franklin County Public Schools
City, State: Frankfort, KY
Music that Describes Shannon
Shannon Fryar was nominated by her colleague, Beckee Seals.
"Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to," - Orson Scott Card, American writer.
Ms. Fryar grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky and found herself coming full circle when she began her education career in the same school she attended as a middle school student. Her mission as an educator is empowering future generations to make change. With her work through various programs, she wants to connect the gap between schools and the community. Ms. Fryar may only have middle school students for a short time, but she is determined to help them become contributing members of society. She wants them to be proud of the school and community they belong to.
During her first year as a math teacher, she struggled to understand why her students weren't performing well in the classroom. When asked why she transitioned to being a school counselor, she reflected on a former student who struggled academically.
"I noticed he never completed his homework and was always tired in class. I sat down with him one afternoon and asked what was going on. He said the electricity was cut off at home, and when he got off the bus, he had to help his family with chores. By the time he finished with chores, it was too dark in the house for him to work on homework," said Fryar.
She knew then that she would never be able to teach any student math if their needs were unmet. Teachers often don't understand that some students do not go home to what that teacher would consider "home." Some students struggle in ways that many teachers/administrators don't understand. For example, they might worry about whether or not they are going to get dinner, or whether their parents will come home that evening. They might worry about how to clean their clothes (as they got bullied at school for that exact reason) or whether or not they will be evicted from their home. She needed to help her students, their families, and the community. She needed to make a difference outside of the classroom. Ms. Fryar spent the following years getting her Master's and Education Specialist Degrees (Rank I) in School Counseling from The University of the Cumberlands.
In the Frankfort community, over 800 children are impacted by parental incarceration. Kentucky's incarceration rate is more than double the national average. Parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience that has been referred to as a "shared sentence" due to the short and long-term effects it has on children. Those statistics led Ms. Fryar to start a KRUSH (Kids Rising Up through Support and Healing) group at her school after attending a training. It is a support group for kids who have or have had a family member incarcerated. Her personal experience has led her to relate to students on a more vulnerable level that many can't. She knows firsthand the effects incarceration and addiction can have on a child.
The Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation (WJRF) helps support the KRUSH groups in our community. When Ms. Fryar heard of the Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation operating in the community and schools, she knew she could positively impact students served through the foundation by integrating their services with her own. Her motivation to work with WJRF comes from her own experience with family members struggling with addiction. She reminds students that their parents' choices are not their fault. Each child has their own experience, and she wants them to know they have a purpose and can rise above their circumstances to become productive members of society. Ms. Fryar is the Video Visitation Coordinator for the community. Ms. Fryar sets up weekly video visits for students to have contact with their incarcerated parents. This weekly visit is the only contact some students have with their family members, provided free through the foundation.
From the start of being a teacher, Ms. Fryar has taken on many leadership roles. She served as a grade-level team leader for numerous years, as well as the academic team coach. She became a mentor for new teachers and has been the yearly coordinator for our incoming 6th-grade transition program, Jumpstart. This yearly summer program helps incoming students prepare for middle school life.
Ms. Fryar became focused on making changes within the school. She served as the Site-Based Decision Making Council secretary and then was voted in as a member, where she served a two-year term. As a team leader, Ms. Fryar coordinated a mentoring program with the Kentucky State University's men's basketball team to speak to eighth-grade students with at-risk behavior and academic failure. She participated in the University of Louisville's statistics research studies for mathematics teachers and presented at the annual SREB conference in Atlanta in 2015 on the Mathematics Design Collaborative. Ms. Fryar has served on the Kentucky Department of Education's Mathematics Review Committee for the statewide summative assessment and was awarded Teacher of the Year by her school in 2015-2016.
As a counselor, Ms. Fryar continues her leadership by being a member of the Franklin County Community Council and Franklin County's Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP). Through ASAP, Ms. Fryar obtained a yearly $500 grant to start a Parent University. Ms. Fryar saw a need within her school and the community to have a monthly program that offered free classes on various educational topics such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse prevention, social media safety, etc. During the summer, she helped organize Family Fun Day for the community, led by a local mental health agency. Ms. Fryar believes that when schools work with families to support learning, students perform better in school and throughout life.
Ms. Fryar remains an active member of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and the Kentucky School Counselor Association (KSCA), who named her the 2021 Kentucky Middle School Counselor of the Year. She was elected to the Kentucky School Counselor Association Board as Middle School VP this year.
She has big plans for the future, like wanting to get her school and district RAMP-certified and continue to make her schools trauma-informed. Ms. Fryar was certified as a Bounce Trainer because of her passion for learning about trauma. She can train individuals on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our students and families. Through her work on trauma, Ms. Fryar focuses on helping students become resilient. She strives to know as many of her school's 750 students by name and connect with them on a personal level. Ms. Fryar helps them realize they are more than a face in the building. She carries their pain when they talk about depression or being sexually assaulted. Ms. Fryar grieves with them when they've lost a loved one or share about the domestic violence in their home. She wants to be an advocate for the voices that feel hidden.
Like the students she works with, Ms. Fryar does not like to ask for help; she would rather help and provide for others. Ms. Fryar is self-motivated; having to put herself through college and take on many jobs to avoid monstrous student loans, she succeeded on her own terms. To this day, Ms. Fryar continues to work multiple jobs to maintain her family and provide the best experiences for her children. She spends her summers as the master scheduler, ensuring all 750 students are scheduled into the correct classes, and she continues to help with summer programs.
Ms. Fryar is focused on creating a comprehensive school counseling program aligned with the American School Counseling Association's national standards to meet students' academic, career, and social/emotional development needs. As a teacher, she reached out to colleges and universities nationwide to request pennants to hang in the hallways to remind students to dream big. She is currently piloting a social-emotional learning program with our 7th graders through Empowering Confident Youth. Ms. Fryar wants our students to become successful adults who contribute to their communities, have healthy relationships, and make wise decisions regarding their future.
Here are some comments from those that work with her:
"Mrs. Fryar is an excellent co-worker and counselor. If a student needs help, Mrs. Fryar meets with them as quickly as possible. Students open up to her quickly, so she is obviously able to relate to them and make them feel very comfortable. Mrs. Fryar runs many group counseling sessions like KRUSH, Kindness Club, and a grief group for students with close family members who have passed away. She has formed a peer mentor group and paired struggling students up with other students who can guide them and be a friend to them. Students are very grateful to have groups like this. Knowing others are facing the same issues they face has allowed them to feel more comfortable at school and among their peers.
She is also in charge of student schedules and helps with state-mandated testing. She is incredibly organized and is accommodating to teachers when schedules need to be changed. She is very knowledgeable about the school in general and is a wonderful resource for newer teachers. She also is flexible and fills in when needed.
Mrs. Fryar always puts students first. She is an invaluable staff member, and everyone at EMS is lucky to have her."
Andy Cosby, Science Teacher
"She is an amazing listener. She makes time for all. She follows through with what she says and goes above and beyond for our students daily!"
Crystal Hughes, Assistant Principal.
"She is competent at her job. She can handle multiple difficult situations at a time and has a welcoming and calming demeanor that puts everyone at ease."
Lori Dowler, in-school MH Therapist
"Ms. Fryar is cool. I can talk freely with her, and she makes me feel comfortable."
J. Weathers, a student in KRUSH
"Shannon is the type of person to pay attention to details. She is organized and always thinking ahead. When she sees a need, she immediately starts brainstorming ways to help ensure those needs are met. Shannon thinks outside the box and does whatever it takes to ensure the students at our school have what they need physically, mentally, and educationally in order to be successful. She always remains calm during a crisis and knows what needs to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Shannon loves every student unconditionally, which shows in how she cares for them. I love how she interacts with students, whether it be a hug in the hallway at dismissal or a high five to a student who is proud of an accomplishment they have achieved. Shannon is always there to encourage and guide our students through the happy moments and tough times. She is a great role model to not only our student body, but our staff as a whole. EMS is beyond lucky to have Shannon Fryar as a counselor."
Meagan Morrow, School Social Worker
Ms. Fryer is a great person who gets involved and shows her concern. My son is in jail, and I have custody of his son (my grandson). Ms. Fryar does the weekly video visits so my son can see his own son. That is the only way he gets to see him because I cannot get him to the jail. This really means a lot to us. He likes Ms. Fryar very much, and she makes him comfortable."
Pam Woolums, Guardian of a student
"I work with Ms. Fryar because she is very kind and always listens to my problems."
L. Capley, a student of KRUSH
"Working with middle school students is a special kind of calling. They're going through puberty, developing their worldview, testing the limits of their power/influence, learning social norms, etc. It is no easy task to navigate these situations alongside students, working diligently to create the softest landing possible amidst life's stressors. However, this difficult task looks effortless when Shannon Fryar is involved. Watching her love students and fight for their joy is one of the most powerful things I have had the privilege to witness.
As I type this, Shannon is leading a grief group for 6th graders in a classroom down the hall. She saw a need and did what was necessary to help these students through their journey of grief. They meet weekly to talk about their loved ones, share memories, find solace in their shared experiences, and feel the comfort and safety that Mrs. Fryar emanates to whoever she's around.
Yesterday, she mediated arguments, counseled students individually, planned events for the Kindness Club, and led a group for students who have an incarcerated parent. She also organized two suicide risk assessments with a local mental health hospital, made numerous parent phone calls, did hallway checks with students, etc.
Her days are filled with giving everything she has, and her evenings are no different. The minute her work day ends, Shannon puts on her mom hat. She is raising three beautiful children, all under the age of 10. She ensures that her kids have everything they need and works hard to give them amazing experiences and memories they will cherish. The woman literally doesn't stop caring for others from the minute she wakes up until the minute she goes to bed at night.
Being a school counselor comes so naturally to Shannon. She finds joy in what she does, and it seems to give her a certain energy that is contagious. You can tell when she has a great new idea or has found a way to meet a student's need because she almost hops into our offices to share it with us, as if she can't contain her excitement.
When I think of a LifeChanger, I think of Shannon Fryar. I cannot even begin to imagine how many lives she has changed and futures she has impacted because of her commitment to the emotional health of students and their families. She is so deserving of recognition but would never seek it. She is content to continue working hard on the sidelines, rooting for all of us to win. It is time she realized that her diligence and goodness do not go unnoticed. We're all rooting for her, too."
Katie Robinson, School Counselor (works with Ms. Fryar)