A Manatee County Schools counselor has been recognized as counselor of the year in Florida.
Larissa Bennett, counselor at Virgil Mills Elementary School, was named Florida School Counselor of the Year by the Florida School Counselor Association.
Bennett walked into a room to a group of students cheering and applauding for her Tuesday morning. Manatee County Schools Superintendent Diana Greene broke the news to Bennett, who said it was “totally unexpected,” in a video of the surprise announcement released by Manatee County Schools.
“I’m in shock, I’m actually in shock and I feel over the moon. I don’t have words,” Bennett said.
Bennett has been with the School District of Manatee County for 16 years, spending 12 as a school counselor. Bennett said she also started the Manatee County School Counselor Association chapter and served as the chapter’s president for three years.
“A lot of times people think that, especially in elementary school, kids don’t need a lot of the counselor stuff, but they need it more here,” Bennett said. “Our kids go through so much at home that they don’t know how to explain, they don’t know how to deal with it. Then they bring it to school and we expect them to, you know, pass these big state tests and be the best person they can be, but they haven’t been taught all of those things or they have speed bumps along the way. They need help with that and I’m here for them 100 percent.”
Mills Elementary, where Bennett has worked for the last four years as one of two counselors serving more than 1,200 students, surprised her with the announcement Tuesday morning. Bennett’s family, friends, students and fellow staff members were there for the announcement.
“She talks to them where they are, she knows their specific needs,” said Leslie Burton, assistant principal at Mills Elementary School. “She genuinely cares for the students; it’s really obvious.”
In the video, Bennett thanked her family, friends and coworkers for their support as well as the students who have “lifted her up” to reach where she is today in her career.
“It’s a huge job. My focus is always on making sure that our students have the social and emotional support, but my role is also to support them academically and also with career and college readiness,” Bennett said.
Along with her work as a counselor, Bennett is also a test coordinator for the school and has started a new program where students do public safety announcements as well as the news around the school, Burton said.
“She never slows down,” Burton said.
Greene also tweeted congratulations Tuesday morning to Bennett.
“I’m so proud to announce that Mills Elementary School Counselor Larissa Bennett has been named Florida’s ‘Counselor of the Year,’ ” Greene’s tweet said.
Even with all the excitement and celebration, Bennett stays humble.
“I don’t need the award, I don’t need the recognition because I know what I’m doing to advocate for my profession and I know what I do with my kids,” Bennett said. “The award is just kind of a nice icing.”
According to FSCA, the School Counselor of the Year Award honors counselors who are running a top-notch, comprehensive school counseling program at the elementary, middle or high school levels.