Women’s History Month: Evart counselor guides next generation

'Students know that we are here and that we have the students’ best interests at heart'

EDITOR'S NOTE: The theme for this year's Women's History Month is "Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope." The following is part of a series highlighting women who provide healing and hope to the greater Mecosta County area.

EVART — Navigating high school and the challenges that come with it can be a daunting task for many students, and one Evart Public Schools counselor puts in work to make sure each student is supported, heard, and helped. 

Kendra Prudhomme-Smith’s experience in education first began with her work as a teacher, which then led her to realize her love of helping students outside of the classroom. 

One of two female counselors with the district, Prudhomme-Smith said she sees Women’s History Month as an important time to highlight the successes of women in the world and the community. 

A former teacher of middle school language classes for several years, Prudhomme-Smith felt the push to move to a career as a counselor to help students. 

“I enjoy Spanish and French languages and cultures, but what I really enjoy doing was helping my students solve problems,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “A logical transition from teaching into another field in education would be counseling. I really felt like my connection with my students and my rapport with them was something that I wanted to continue to pursue more deeply.” 

Working with students in the high school, Prudhomme-Smith has seen the wide variety of struggles that both male and female students face on a daily and weekly basis, and she has seen the effect that social media and societal expectations have on young girls.

"There's this image that they aspire to be this, this ideal image that everyone is kind of Photoshoped and airbrushed, edited, and filtered and everything else, that's really challenging," Prudhomme-Smith said. "Being able to counsel students to help them realize what's real and what's tangible in life, to be proud of your own strengths as well as your idiosyncrasies, is really important.” 

As a high school counselor, another key part of Prudhomme-Smith’s duties is to educate students about the options they have after graduation. She said encouraging students to think outside of the traditional college experience to find and pursue their passions is something she focuses on. 

“One of the things that I am really passionate about is allowing students to see the broad menu of post-secondary options,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “Whether that's a traditional college or university, a trade school, a skilled trades area, or going into the military, I push my students, both male and female, to think outside of traditional gender roles, to just think about their own passions and skills, and not necessarily what society has kind of pushed them into as traditional careers." 

'IT'S AN INSPIRATION TO ME'

Of the six districts in Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, Evart Public Schools is the only one that has a female superintendent — Shirley Howard. Evart High School also has a female principal — Jessica Kolenda. 

Prudhomme-Smith said having women in different leadership roles within the school has lent itself to the success of both students and staff within the school. 

“It's an inspiration to me as a person who also is interested in building more leadership roles for myself in the future aspiring to those and also for the girls in our building,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “I think that it is such a neat thing to see women in administration education because they have a very great perspective when it comes to what students truly need. When a student is in a discipline situation, our high school principal (Jessica) doesn't just look at the outward behavior but spends a lot of time investigating the why behind why a student might be having difficulty in school or why they might be true in or why they might not be passing their classes."

Superintendent Howard has been with the district serving students for just over six years, but has been in education for far longer than that. 

Prudhomme-Smith said Howard has become a solid resource for other district superintendents and administrators.

“I believe that she kind of has sort of like a mentoring thing going on with other area superintendents,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “She's been a superintendent for a long time and can offer a wealth of experience to people, and I know that a lot of people around here respect her opinion because she is so experienced and has had such a broad career in education that's really neat.

"Shirley is a very good person at looking at several different aspects of a situation and being able to really drill down into what a person needs or what a building needs are things like that.”

As to female role models that inspired her early in life, Prudhomme-Smith cited Principal Kolenda as a source of inspiration for ensuring students have what they need to succeed at Evart High School. 

“Jessica has been a strong female role model for me and has taught me a lot about leadership and character, and perseverance and being able to assert myself,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “Well, you know, what I mean, being able to really find my own voice because I am a naturally introverted person, I've had a couple of people who've really encouraged me and pushed me to believe in myself and be able to take on roles that I might not have if I hadn't had their encouragement.” 

Prudhomme-Smith said she hopes the administration will continue to support the female student body in their needs and support student voices. 

“I think that it's always very important to ensure that students have the opportunity to voice their concerns or opinions about lots of different issues,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “We have done surveys and wellness checks on our students and have also instituted an open-door policy both in the main office and in the counseling office to ensure that students really feel like they have access to the school staff that they need in order to voice their concerns or opinions. I think that's a wonderful thing about being in a small school as well. It’s a definite advantage that we are a family here and students know that we are here and that we have the students’ best interests at heart.” 

Prudhomme-Smith explained that fellow counselor Aftyn Johnson is that they have different personalities which work well together for more specific work. 

Johnson is more extroverted and Prudhomme-Smith more introverted, which allows the two to identify different and unique ways to solve problems and help students. 

EDUCATING THE NEXT GENERATION

Prudhomme-Smith said as a mother of three boys herself, educating them early on women’s issues and why they are important is a parenting tool she utilizes regularly. 

“I truly feel that if we're going to bust the patriarchy, it's going to come from the people who are in power right now,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “This is honestly something I talk to my boys about all the time, especially my oldest, he's almost 12. He's really starting to get to that whole middle school age where he's more aware than he used to be of how boys and girls are sometimes treated differently in schools. I want to help them realize that it is really up to them to help ensure that their female classmates and that any female that they encounter in life is lifted up and respected accordingly.” 

Moving forward, Prudhomme-Smith said she is confident that the Evart High School administration will continue to support all students, male or female, in educating themselves about women’s issues. 

Prudhomme-Smith said she plans to continue with providing quality counseling services to students alongside Johnson, while also focusing more efforts on the Evart Promise Plus scholarship program, which she has helped grow serving as executive director. 

“I am very proud of the work that we've done with the Promise program for both students who are male and female and being able to help provide them with those funds and resources as they go off into college,” Prudhomme-Smith said. “When every educator looks back on their career, and they think about what's most important to them, or what they're most proud of, it's the relationships that you're able to form with students.”