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“Ms. Keela” Honored as 2022 Minnesota Counselor of the Year

Keela Kuhlers

It’d be hard to find someone more passionate about her job than Saint Paul Music Academy counselor Keela Kuhlers. Yet, in her eighth year at SPMA, “Ms. Keela” returned home recently from a work trip with even more fire inside her.

Kuhlers was named the 2020 Minnesota Elementary School Counselor of the Year, ultimately was awarded 2022 Minnesota School Counselor of the Year and was honored at the American School Counselor Associations awards gala in Washington, D.C., last week.

“I felt myself more ignited in my profession for the differences I can make in students’ lives and in our school community,” said Kuhlers, a North Dakota native who began teaching in Saint Paul Public Schools in 2012. “I wanted to bring that energy back to Minnesota. It was really inspiring.”

Ask Sue Arvidson, lead elementary counselor for SPPS, about Kuhlers and you can tell how proud she is.

“Keela is truly a leader among elementary counselors not only in our district, but across the state,” Arvidson said. “She’s just a person who pushes herself to excellence at all times. If there’s something she can do to become a better counselor, she’ll do it. She’s truly an inspiration to others.”

Arvidson points to how Kuhlers goes the extra mile for her students. During distance learning, she participated in a weekly evening virtual support and bedtime story Google Meet where she offered herself as a social-emotional support for students and families.  She also created a system for teachers to request outreach for families to access community and school based resources, resulting in over 80 home visits to try to connect with and support families.

“She also does seemingly small things that provide incredible value for our families,” Arvidson said. “She’s such an out of the box thinker. She continues her own professional growth to meet the moment and be the best for her students.”

Kuhlers did not set out to be a school counselor. Her first job after getting her Masters degree at Colorado State University was actually in community based counseling. But she realized that “I wanted to work in the school environment so that I would be able to support hundreds of kids in a more proactive way and make a difference in more young people’s lives.” So, she took additional classes at the University of Minnesota and got hired at Cherokee Heights Elementary School in 2012.

Kuhlers moved to Saint Paul Music Academy two years later, and truly found her home. “I’ve felt for the longest time that SPMA has educators who are truly invested, dedicated and genuinely care about their work,” said Kuhlers, who serves as Vice President of the Minnesota School Counselor Association. “They bring it each day. It’s hard to find an educator or teacher who complains, because they come and do what they can do to support students. They care about their work and their kids, helping kids grow as people and in academics, and they have supported the school counseling program enormously.”

Hesitant to talk about herself, Kuhlers said the most “heartfelt” part about this award was that the process was started by her peers in Saint Paul. “I’ve said often that this has been a really bright spot in a couple of challenging years of being an educator. This process has only impassioned me to continue to do more. “