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Island Park counselor earns high honor

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Andrea Porzelt, the guidance counselor for Island Park Public Schools, got a huge surprise last month when Nassau County Counselors’ Association named her its 2020 Counselor of the Year.

On Oct. 23, Dr. Bruce Hoffman, principal of Lincoln Orens Middle School, told Porzelt to walk outside the school auditorium with him. When she arrived, her husband, parents and some faculty members, as well as the school district superintendent and assistant superintendent, were all there to deliver the news. Paula Curci and Carolyn Cuttler, the counseling professionals who nominated Porzelt for the honor, and Christina Koromi, chair of the Nassau County Counselor of the Year committee, were also there.

“I’m still in complete shock,” she said, nearly two weeks later. “I didn’t expect to get an award like that doing a job that I love doing. I am overjoyed, and it means a lot to me.”

Porzelt has been with the district for 11 years, serving children from kindergarten through eighth grade who attend Francis X. Hegarty Elementary and Lincoln Orens Middle School. During that time, she has helped students and their families through the community’s most challenging times.

After Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, Porzelt connected struggling families with local aid organizations. Now, as students are learning remotely amid the pandemic, she implemented new processes and digital tools to help them in the virtual classroom. Since earning the county counselor award, she’s been asked to give a presentation about curriculum and adapting to new regulations to school counselors at BOCES.

“Through her dedication and commitment, Andrea has made many contributions to the Island Park community,” said Superintendent Vincent Randazzo. “She is a school counselor who has the best interest of students at the heart of what she does.”

Koromi, too, praised Porzelt for her work with students in the district. “Andrea combines strong counseling skills with warmth, sensitivity and a quiet strength,” she said. “By developing a non-threatening atmosphere, she readily earned trust from students. You can count on Andrea to find a way to empower her students to make appropriate academic and behavioral choices. Her sense of humor and welcoming approach are an asset when issues arise.”

Porzelt played a crucial role to develop and implement a “K-8 guidance plan,” district officials said. She contributes to the district’s mental health team, which brings social emotional learning, character education and other programs to the two schools. She also oversees college and career exploration opportunities and coordinates students’ transition to ninth grade with Long Beach High School’s Guidance Department.

“I truly love my job and meeting with all my students and families- whether it’s in person or, these days, virtual,” Porzelt said. “It’s very rewarding when there’s an obstacle we’re facing together and we put together a successful plan for both the students and the family.”

Porzelt noted that because of Covid-19, cooperation between the schools, children and families is more important than ever. As students are learning remotely or on a hybrid model, issues can arise, such as students sleeping in late, technology malfunctioning or a student logging into the wrong class. Her job is to work through these stressful situations with families during a time that she said is “quite tricky for everyone in the education field.”

“When students are present in school, we are trying to do as much with them as we can,” she explained. “Having that in-person experience is most beneficial for us and them . . . As things arise when students are home, we quickly set Google Meets or speak on the phone and try to resolve any obstacles we are facing.”

Porzelt concluded that her work is not possible without the support of the Island Park school community and families.

“Island Park is a really special place to work in,” she said. “This community has been through a lot in the past 10 years. If there’s one thing you can say about Island Park, the community really comes together to make everything happen for our families and students. I thank them for their help in my job, as well.”