Kaʻala Elementary School Counselor Jon Morikawa was recently recognized as the 2021 American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) Hawaii School Counselor of the Year.
The ASCA School Counselor of the Year award honors professionals who devote their careers to advocating for the nation’s students and addressing their academic and social emotional development and college and career readiness needs. Honorees were judged based on their ability to create systemic change within the school counseling profession.
Typically the State School Counselor of the Year would go on to represent Hawaii at a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., but due to the pandemic, this year’s recognition event is being held virtually.
"Congratulations and mahalo to Jon for his unwavering dedication and commitment to the academic achievement and social emotional needs of the students at Kaʻala Elementary," Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said. "We are grateful to have such innovative and passionate school counselors like Jon, who have consistently provided support to teachers and students throughout this unprecedented time in education."
A Hawaii State Department of Education veteran of over 30 years, Morikawa has led his school through various initiatives to improve positive behavior intervention supports as well as social emotional learning (SEL). In addition to reinstating Kaʻala’s “Mule Bucks” store to reward positive student behavior, Morikawa also visits classrooms or makes himself available to support teachers with SEL lessons. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jon and his colleagues had to adjust how they taught SEL, transitioning to pre-recorded lessons or virtual lessons via Google Meets.
To improve school-wide attendance, Jon established an attendance committee for the school, reviewing data and developing success plans for each individual student. He created incentive programs for struggling students, where classes with perfect weekly attendance are rewarded with “Mule Bucks.” More broadly, Morikawa also spearheads the Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area’s “Challenge Five” initiative to encourage students to have less than five absences throughout the school year. He prints banners and shirts to promote this among all complex area schools, and coordinates his school’s assembly to honor students who have completed the challenge.
“Jon has provided countless examples of leadership and service to our complex area schools and community, and has innovated and contributed to counseling in a myriad of ways,” Kaʻala Elementary Principal Sam Bennett said. “He’s a lifelong learner, facing challenges and turning them into opportunities for growth.”
Morikwa was also integral in strengthening Kaʻala Elementary’s referral process for students needing support. He helped to develop the school’s “Kids Time,” a weekly teacher collaboration period where teachers and administrators could meet to plan next steps for students struggling academically or behaviorally.
“There are so many great people in counseling and education, so being chosen was a huge surprise to me,” Morikawa said. “This award isn’t about me; it’s about the school, the staff and the students I work with everyday.”
ASCA is celebrating 2021 National School Counseling Week from Feb. 1-5. The goal of the week is to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems. For more information about ASCA, click here.