Rachael Washington - Northwoods Middle School
Karen Urbanic, an English Language Arts and Social Studies Instructional Specialist at Northwoods Middle School describe one of her favorites colleagues as the loudest and funniest cheerleader for the students and staff at her school. That person is Rachael Washington, one of the school's guidance counselors. Washington’s enthusiasm for all things kids is contagious, Urbanic said.
"She works hard to ensure that all students are celebrated for their accomplishments and can be seen every Friday dancing down the hallway, blaring her song of the day, and wishing everyone a great Friday," said Urbanic.
Zoe Roff, an eighth-grade math teacher agrees.
“Washington is a source of constant energy for our entire faculty,” said Roff. “She exudes a commitment to our nighthawks that sets a tone for others. She provides supports in a variety of ways for students and faculty and keeps us aligned with PBIS philosophies."
Washington has been serving the students of Northwoods for almost a decade. She is the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) lead, co-chair for the school's Multi-Tiered Systems Supports (MTSS) team, and a member of the Collective Leadership Initiative (CLI) team. Washington is responsible for the bi-weekly PBIS #MONSLAY (a hashtag for “I will slay Monday”) that goes out to all teachers and students on Mondays to reteach expectations. While her plate is full, she always has time for the students.
Washington's desire to serve students came at an early age. She always wanted to be a fifth-grade teacher. It was only when she participated in the Teacher Cadet program that she changed her mind. Washington changed course and went the Sports Psychology route. In her senior year of college, she was placed into an elementary school to work with the guidance counselors there. This put her back on a career track to education. With a Masters of School Counseling in hand from The Citadel, Washington was ready to begin her career.
Washington completed her internship and practicum at Northwoods before being hired 12 years ago at the former Alice Burney Middle School. Her time at Northwoods has been incredibly special.
"In truth, I spend the majority of my time at school," said Washington. "These people are my friends and family, and I enjoy the atmosphere very much."
The school counselors move up each grade level with their students, getting to know them and watching them mature over three years. This model also allows counselors to better get to know the kids and their families.
"Often, we are more than just a teacher or a counselor," said Washington. "Sometimes we act as a parent to these kids, providing them with additional levels of support."
According to Principal Colleen Knauer, Washington is often quiet in the background but the heart of Northwoods.
"She is someone that everyone leans on for assistance, and she always makes time for the staff and students of Northwoods," said Knauer. "Every day, she tries to bring a little bit of sunshine to the staff and students with her attitude and smile. She is truly the pulse of our school and CCSD."
The implementation of PBIS has been positive for Northwoods. Referrals have decreased, and expectations of students are consistent. Washington said PBIS is part of the culture of the school.
"The positive dialogue and reinforcement structure eliminates battles and improves behavior," said Washington. "I couldn't tell you who my school counselors were when I was in middle school. Today administrative tasks are done as a team, and the students see us out and around the school. We're interacting with students in the halls daily."
Washington explained that middle school counseling consists mainly of initial sessions with a focus on conflict resolution. There are opportunities for students to have one-on-one meetings as needed. After all, middle school students face many things, such as bullying, cliques, and new social interactions. Technology increases those traditional issues ten-fold, Washington said. She has access to resources she can provide students, and there is a professional therapist on staff.
"I like seeing a different side of kids than what their teachers see," said Washington. "Our one-on-one sessions allow us to dig deeper into an issue and dissect it, and the teachers often comment that they a difference in their students."
Washington checks in on about a handful of students daily. Several come in and eat their lunch in her office. This provides additional opportunities to get to know the students and witness their progress.
"It takes a special person to work here and with middle school-aged children," said Washington. "That's why I am fortunate to work with my colleagues."
Colleague Onekki C. Shaw, the school's Lead Teacher, describes Washington as a true team leader.
"Although I have worked with Ms. Washington for more than eight years, this year I had the opportunity to work with her in a closer, more collaborative capacity," said Shaw. "During our adventures this year as 'Ebony & Ivory', we have worked hard, had fun, resolved conflicts, and grown as professionals. I have witnessed Ms. Washington take on more leadership roles through her works with PBIS and MTSS. She has taken on these schoolwide initiatives (in addition to her normal day-to-day counseling duties) with dedication and excitement."
In addition to being a counselor, Washington has served as the volleyball coach at Northwoods, Garrett Academy, and R.B. Stall High School. She attended Francis Marion University on a volleyball scholarship and found coaching as an additional way to give back to her students.
Washington hung up her coaching hat to pursue more opportunities at the school, thanks to Principal Knauer.
"Knauer has encouraged me to be so much more," said Washington. "I earned my administrative degree, and she's assigned me leadership opportunities. She's pushed me more than any other principal and allowed me to do more. I appreciate that she sees the potential in me."
Washington wants to be an assistant principal one day, hopefully at Northwoods.
"I am always looking for ways to better myself," said Washington. “I don't want to be content. I want to grow and do."
Washington's colleagues have noticed.
"She is committed to changing the culture and climate of the school, establishing reflective, efficient schoolwide systems, and maintaining school morale," said Shaw. "Whether she is walking the halls blasting her boombox with the tune of the day or greeting students in the hall, she maintains a positive outlook and cheery disposition. Ms. Washington has been adamant about growing both personally and professionally. I am glad that I have been able to witness this and wish her continuous success."