Caledonia — Bari Kane knew she wanted to pursue a career in education as a junior in high school.
Over time, Duncan Lake Middle School’s counselor broadened her goals but never lost her passion for working with kids.
“I feel like that weird unicorn that picked what I wanted to do as a junior in high school and I’ve never done anything,” Kane said.
She started working in Caledonia Community Schools as a part-time counselor for the elementary schools before transitioning into a full-time fourth-grade teacher at Paris Ridge Elementary.
“Fourteen years later, I was ready to go back into counseling,” she said. “When you’re a counselor and a teacher, you play both roles in your classroom. I’ve always had a mind for both and my heart was calling me back to counseling.”
As a school counselor, Kane strives to build relationships with her students, even if she doesn’t see them in her office.
“Students bring energy to us; how can they not?” she said. “Sometimes they just want someone to listen to them that doesn’t have their own agenda; an adult here at school who is tapped into their everyday lives.”
Counseling the Whole Child
In recognition for her support and love for her students, Kane was named West Michigan Counselor of the Year by the West Michigan Counseling Association.
“I felt so honored to receive this award,” she said. “I’m not in a silo; I have many people who have shaped who I am in this district and empowered me.”
Katie Dorband, the district’s student support coordinator and Kane’s supervisor, described her as someone who is “always willing to try new ideas, adapt to the ever-changing educational environment and remove barriers to student achievement and health” in the nomination form.
“Bari Kane is a compassionate professional who works hard to make sure that students and families receive the right support at the right time,” Dorband added. “She is an incredible asset to the counseling community.”
Superintendent Dedrick Martin praised Kane for increased service to students over the past two years.
“As mental health issues have become so prevalent in school-age children and technology and social media have presented new challenges, we’re lucky to have such a dedicated and caring counselor at CCS,” he said.
Kane values the importance of being “proactive” in meeting the individual needs of the whole child.
“The mental health and wellness of our students at CCS is a top priority, and incorporating evidence-based mental health practices into everything we do leads to better outcomes for our students at school and into the future.”
Addressing Anxiety with Coping Strategies
In collaboration with Duncan Lake’s administrators, and social worker and co-counselor Andrew Fitzpatrick, Kane monitors student behaviors and ensures each child gets what they need, whether that be disciplinary actions or mental health support.
“Mental health and discipline go hand in hand, and all behavior is communication,” she said. “There are definitely times where things come through as a discipline issue but other times, they just need someone on their side pulling for them.”
‘In middle school, especially in the seventh grade, students are at a crossroads of being a kid and adult. … Every single one of them is walking around thinking they’re the only ones struggling to fit in and belong.’– Bari Kane, Duncan Lake Middle School counselor
With mental health awareness becoming more prominent in schools and beyond, Kane believes the other half of managing mental health is learning and practicing coping strategies.
“I wish that every time someone said ‘I have anxiety’ they would also present their strategy for coping because with that comes hope,” Kane said. “That’s where our role is; we don’t diagnose students but we do figure out which strategy is right for them.”
She added: “Mental health looks different on boys versus girls and sometimes we (mistake) behavior issues for mental health issues.”
A Longing for Belonging
As students grow up, they discover more about themselves and want to feel like they belong.
“In middle school, especially in the seventh grade, students are at a crossroads of being a kid and adult,” Kane said. “They’re figuring out who they are and developing their own thoughts. Every single one of them is walking around thinking they’re the only ones struggling to fit in and belong.”
In addition to serving students as a counselor, Kane facilitates the be nice. program at Duncan Lake, providing resources for students and training for teachers on positive mental health practices.
“Every child has their story,” she said. “It takes getting to know them to learn their story.”