HUDSON -- Out of more than a hundred thousand counselors nationwide, Hudson’s own Sarah Flier was selected as one of five finalists for the American School Counselor Association’s National Counselor of the Year.

Flier, who works at Willow River Elementary, was selected as the Wisconsin Counselor of the Year earlier this spring.

“This was a complete shock,” Flier said of being selected as a finalist for national recognition.

The state-level nomination allowed her to apply for the national award. The process entailed an application including essays and videos of her leadership, collaboration and work for systemic change. She was one of the first Wisconsin counselors selected as a finalist in more than 10 years.

Flier’s creation of a "Literacy Toolbox" program to collect book donations and her work with students to raise their ELA growth target were two factors in her selection.

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Flier said part of her job as a school counselor is to find inequities within marginalized groups. When looking at the state Forward Exam, she found a gap with the English language arts between students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged versus those who are not. In searching for a solution with fifth-grade teacher Kevin Knoke, the two came up with the idea for the Literary Toolbox, a program that would allow students to pick and keep books of their own.

The program is run and funded by a parents group. It does not require a formal application, but instead is open to anyone who needs it. Participating students get to select a book each month to help build their home library and connect to reading as a positive activity, Flier said.

“And giving them that ownership over it,” Flier said.

The schools set rigorous goals around reading, Flier said. Earlier this year Willow River set the goal to have 65% of its students meeting their ELA growth target.

“What’s cool about this is that it’s not looking for who is proficient or advanced; it’s 'are these kids advancing and growing individually?'” she said. “Which I really like to get behind because proficient for one kid isn’t always proficient for another.”

Looking closely at the data, Flier found that third grade students were missing their goal more than others and she decided to focus extra efforts on them. She worked to develop test-taking and study skills with them, and also pulled in some students for small groups.

When it came time to take the tests again, the entire third grade results went up, from 45% meeting their goal to 76%.

“I had kids run down to my office right after taking this test saying, ‘Mrs. Flier I beat my score by one point,' and they were over the moon,” she said. “It was really fun to celebrate with them and see if you work a little bit on this and you set goals you can do it.”

Typically the finalists would be flown out to D.C. for interviews, but this year that was conducted over Zoom.

Olivia Carter of Missouri was selected as the national winner, but as finalist Flier will take part in national work speaking with legislators and advocating for the importance of school counselors.

“Really give a voice to what school counselors can do for our students academically, socially, emotionally and (with) career readiness,” she said.

Flier and the other finalists will be featured in virtual events during National School Counseling Week Feb. 1-5, 2021.