Get to know Kira Luscher
For several months North Marion Middle School's one counselor was supporting 400 teenagers in the midst of "these trying times." But no more!
Despite a national labor shortage, the school's co-principals were able to recruit a second Middle School Counselor, Kira Luscher, who came on board in December.
"I have been out of a school district for the last couple months with moving, and I am just excited to be back and around students again," said Luscher, who moved from Libby, Mont. to Oregon City with her husband in August.
It was only a few years ago that the middle school was able to bring on a second counselor, but when the previous counselor left during the pandemic, counselor Kelsey Brown was alone. Now, Brown will not only have the help she needs, Luscher's presence will impact the whole school, not only in the counselor's office but also in the classroom, with fresh lessons designed to aid students. That's good news for North Marion's hundreds of adolescents experiencing a time in life already filled with emotional adjustments and transitions, which COVID-19 has complicated further still.
"Having an additional school counselor means that students will have more access to an adult who can support them in navigating their middle school experience," Brown said. "This is huge for middle school students who sometimes need 'just in time' support to get through a difficult day. Furthermore, Kira and I can partner on ways to serve all students through pushing into classrooms for guidance lessons, supporting social and emotional learning (SEL) lessons in Homeroom, and planning for meaningful transitions from intermediate school to middle school and from middle school to high school."
Luscher's plans at North Marion
Luscher said that a school counselor typically connects with parents and students, collaborates with administrators during health and disciplinary situations and hammers out the master schedule for student classes.
But, as Brown mentioned, Luscher's work will also encompass strategic, individualized SEL. Officially introduced in the fall of 2017, staff members prioritize SEL throughout the North Marion School District, and for good reason. SEL is about helping students recognize and manage their emotions, learning to cope in a healthy way when they feel upset or overwhelmed.
Luscher said a key aspect of SEL is teaching students to identify a trusted adult and peer to whom they can turn in times of trouble.
"Knowing they're loved and cared for lets them know they should be here and can be who they want to be," Luscher explained.
Who is Kira Luscher?
Luscher's story is interwoven with that of her high school sweetheart, Lane, a physical therapist who is now clocking in at a wellness center in Oregon City.
A couple years ago, he was pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, while she shouldered the executive director position at the nonprofit Bucksport Area Childcare Center, which educates and nurtures about 50 preschoolers and toddlers. At Bucksport, Luscher tried her hand at grant writing to support her organization, later volunteering on a grant committee to select recipients to receive funding from United Way.
But Luscher missed working more directly with students, spurring her to accept a position as the lead preschool teacher at Penquis Childhood Development, which provides early childhood education to ages 5 and younger. After making several referrals for children in need of counseling, Luscher became inspired when she saw how few counselors there are and how many kids need mental health support.
Luscher returned to her hometown where she spent a year and a half as a school counselor at Libby Middle/High School. In Libby, she devoted her hours to students whose families she knew well at the school where she fell in love with her husband. She loves her hometown and cherishes spending time with her younger siblings, two girls and two boys. They're all teens and tweens whom she says have gotten a little sassier these days.
Maybe that's why, except for the time she spent in Maine, she has stayed close to home. She earned a Bachelor of Science Elementary Education from Montana State University and is in the process of obtaining a Master of Education in School Counseling from MSU â€“ Billings. She's interning with North Marion for several months as she wraps up her master's degree remotely.
Yet, despite their close ties and deep love for their home state, Luscher and her husband longed for a new home. It had to be a place where, as in Montana, they could still soak in nature alongside Nova, their enthusiastic toy Australian shepherd.
"We wanted a city experience where we could still go hiking," Luscher explained.
They found that in Oregon, roaming around Mirror Lake on Mount Hood and taking in the tumbling waters throughout Silver Falls State Park.
NMMS staff delighted
North Marion community members say they're delighted with this addition to the middle school, where students need support in particular as they continue adjusting to in-person school after taking remote classes.
"The past few years have presented even more challenges for our students and having a second counselor to support them is invaluable," North Marion School District school psychologist Jody K. Farri said. "I think having an adult to connect with and feel safe around is crucial to supporting our kids with any mental health issues, and just for love and connection. COVID has created a world of disconnection, and children thrive when they feel cared about."
Several North Marion community members felt similarly.
"The first thing I want to say is that I couldn't be more excited to have two people to offer supports to our students," NMMS Co-Principal David Sheldon said. "This is especially relevant at this time as students continue to struggle with reacclimating to school and social experiences.
"Kira is a loving and caring person who is passionate about working with middle school students. We feel fortunate to have someone with her skill sets and character to help us meet the needs of all of our students," he added
Luscher's skill sets include a knowledge of curriculum types such as OWL, which features engaging literacy and language activities (storytelling, drawing, using photos) that encompass all subject areas including math and science, and Creative Curriculum, which centers around individualized attention for children and is based on research into developmental stages.
NMMS Co-Principal Tami Badinger said she is pleased to watch the counseling department grow.
"I would say that Kira is an excellent complement to our already outstanding counselor, Kelsey Brown," Badinger said. "The two of them are making plans to offer great support for our students at NMMS!"
Luscher's arrival is already generating excitement.
Family liaison Elbia Espinoza also said that Luscher's arrival benefits families.
"I'm sure the parents appreciate it — teachers, staff — everybody appreciates the fact that we have another counselor," Espinoza said.
Parent Darla Boswell said this change matters for all students, including her son, Ben, a sixth-grader.
"I know my son loves Ms. Brown, but he says she is super busy," said Boswell, who is also a second-grade teacher. "I know he will be excited to hear there is another counselor and, hopefully, will get a chance to know her too."
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