CLEARFIELD -- Katrina Beddes -- the Utah School Counselor of the Year -- recently noticed that Holt Elementary School students were frequently making negative comments about themselves, their peers and their teachers.
Beddes -- one of five finalists for National School Counselor of the Year -- took it upon herself to craft a way to reverse this negative trend and to improve the atmosphere throughout her school.
Her concern resulted in a "Fill Your Bucket" campaign composed of fluffy, colored pompoms and a little bucket for each student in the school.
When a student receives a compliment from another student, they put a pompom in their own bucket and in the bucket of the person who complimented them.
The result: students looking for ways to build each other up.
Their buckets are quickly filling.
"The students are more aware of how to be kind to each other and are giving each other compliments," Holt Elementary Principal Chris Wahlquist said.
"There are fewer problems between students. All the kids are looking for ways to fill their buckets and help each other."
Actions and programs such as this resulted in Beddes being named Utah School Counselor of the Year for 2012 by the Utah School Counselor Association, and subsequently being named as one of five finalists for National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association.
She competed with counselors from elementary, middle and high schools.
Beddes has been a school counselor for 13 years and previously taught for five years.
"I love being able to influence the whole atmosphere of a school. When I taught before I was a counselor, I was only able to influence my classroom or grade level," she said.
"As a counselor, I can directly impact all classes and students."
Beddes said she watches for trends, both through observation and data crunching, and then creates programs to address the issues within the school.
"Several years ago, I noticed that the school had a system for dealing with children in trouble, but no system for helping them make good choices," she said. "So I set up a system with a team of teachers, so that we now have systems in place to do both."
Beddes explained that she works to be both positive and proactive in her counseling methods. She also has implemented programs to address bullying, tardiness, chronic absences and setting goals.
"When a student has a specific need above and beyond the class lessons," Wahlquist said of Beddes, "she meets with small groups or individually to teach them skills to be good friends, or to deal with a sad event in their life, such as the passing of parents or grandparents.
"She has great responsive services for kids."
The Utah School Counselor Association looks at counselors' leadership skills, the programs they have initiated and how the counselors incorporate a comprehensive program in their school, said Kathy Williams, chairwoman of the Counselor of the Year Committee.
"It's quite an extensive application process," she said, adding that a counselor must have at least three years of experience in order to be considered.
Beddes was selected from about 35 applicants to receive the Utah award, then was nominated by Williams to compete for the national award.
The five national finalists will travel to Alexandria, Va., in November to be interviewed by a nine-member panel of counselors and educators.
"They need to show that they understand what an exemplary and comprehensive counseling program looks like. They must share a lot of data showing the impact of their interventions in the school and the resulting students' success," said Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association.
Cook said the five finalists will travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of January to receive a briefing on Capitol Hill, visit with senators and congressmen and tour the Department of Education.
The winner will be announced at a Feb. 1 gala at the historic Union Station in Washington.
"I figure, at this point, it is amazing that I made it this far," Beddes said.
"I love being able to work with kids and all different levels of kids. It's the best job ever."