AVON — When Ron Swier was growing up, his school had no guidance counselor.
But that didn’t prevent him from taking up the profession as a career. And he was recently honored as one of the top high school counselors in the country at the American School Counselor Association’s School Counselor of the Year celebration in Washington, D.C.
Swier, who has been working as a school counselor for 31 years at a number of schools throughout the state, has spent the past three years with the Avon School District. And while he said he was honored by the recognition, he stressed there were many others like him around South Dakota who were also deserving.
“I’m very blessed, but there are a lot of good counselors throughout our state,” Swier said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic. “And many more that are more active than I am, but I feel blessed.”
Swier attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. along with counselors representing 42 states. The celebration aims to recognize state school counselors of the year for their student advocacy and dedication to fostering students’ academic, social, emotional and career development.
Swier has worked in districts in Hanson County, Chester, Rosholt, Rutland and Avon.
But he didn’t always have his eyes set on becoming a school counselor. It was something that came to him later in life.
“I’ve always wanted to be in education and coaching. I saw a side of (counseling) that I wanted to do, so I quit education for four years and got my masters in counseling. I was 40 when I did that,” Swier said.
He earned a master’s degree in counseling and a bachelor’s degree in education from South Dakota State University and it also a member of the South Dakota School Counselor Association and the South Central Cooperative Counselor’s Chapter.
Swier utilizes programs like Character Counts to help students develop a positive character that will last from their time in school to later in life. He teaches the program to first- through sixth-graders and discusses the various pillars of character while mixing in lessons through motivational videos and discussions on personal experiences.
It’s a program that Swier has come to respect, and he’s used it for many years. So many years that he’s still using video cassettes for some of the lessons.
“I’m from the old school. Instead of DVDs, I still have the VHS tapes. The old tapes are still the better ones, and they seem to enjoy it,” Swier said.
He also assists students in the finer points of obtaining scholarships and financial aid for their educational career after high school. He has organized annual financial aid nights and career fairs, and also provides one-on-one career counseling sessions. During the 2018-19 school year, 10 students in a class of 15 received higher education scholarships totaling $270,000. Three of his students were chosen over 1,000 applicants nationwide as three of 365 recipients to receive the Build Dakota Scholarship, which funds tuition and fees to enter a critical needs workforce.
Swier said a small class bringing in over a quarter-million dollars in scholarships is outstanding.
“That is a tremendous amount. For a school in Mitchell or Madison it might not be a really big thing, but for us to get those, it’s huge to our community,” Swier said.
As his students move through their school years and onto career opportunities, they often stay in contact with him and stop back to visit on occasion. He said that is one of the most pleasant aspects of his job and it reminds him that his work has an impact on the students.
“I like it when I have past graduates come back and talk about doing this and that. That’s one of the most satisfying things — seeing kids succeed when they get out,” Swier said.
Swier said the experience of becoming a counselor and helping guide young students as they navigate the ins and outs of the classroom on their way to productive careers have been fulfilling. And while he does ponder retirement on occasion, for now his students are inspiring him as much as he inspires them.
As for others thinking about following his path as a counselor? Swier said it’s a life-affirming ride.
“These young people, high school kids, they keep me young. They keep me on my toes so I don’t feel as old as I am,” Swier said with a laugh.”
And for now, he’ll keep encouraging them to pursue something they love as a career. He did, and he knows how satisfying it can be.
“They just have to find something they enjoy doing and pursue it,” Swier said.