For some, personal growth can be an intimidating process, but for Kris Zimnawoda Pilewski, it is something she explores daily.
“I like to push personal limits and I appreciate and am inspired by people who push themselves and work hard every day,” Pilewski said.
Pilewski has been an admirable part of the School Town of Highland for 29 years. She started as a grade school teacher for the first 10 years of her career and then decided to go back to school to earn her master’s degree in school counseling. She then returned to the School Town of Highland and has been an active school counselor there for the last19 years.
“Mental health at all ages is an important subject because children need advocates. Quite often their parents can’t be advocates for them due to having their own mental health issues and struggling in the role of parenting,” Pilewski said. “Kids need someone, even if it isn’t their parent, to tell them that they are heard, understood and that they will be helped.”
Pilewski oversees hundreds of kids in kindergarten through 5th grade. No day is really ever the same. Her day begins by participating in parking lot duty, then greeting students. This is when Pilewski gets a feel for the students’ moods, and she begins to dive into her process of helping those in need.
“I like to think I can be an advocate for these kids and empower them. It’s my job to make sure the kids have a good day at school so that they can learn. If they are upset, sad, worried, they can’t learn and meet their academic potential,” she said.
Throughout the school year, Pilewski enters the classroom at least six times. This is when she teaches guidance lessons, refusal skills, decision making, drug and alcohol information, learning styles, study skills, and many more.
But her work doesn’t end there. Outside of the classroom, Kris is also busy reaching out to families in need to connect them with resources such as food and mental health guidance. She also offers one-on-one and small group counseling to children and families who are struggling. During these sessions, she focuses on how to navigate tough situations such as death, divorce and social skills.
Though she can be dealing with some dark subjects and situations at times, Pilewski says every second is beyond worth it when she sees her students prosper in the end.
“I’m always happy to see my students do well and to grow. When I see kids move onto high school who have overcome very difficult family situations such as death, mental health or substance abuse issues, it’s amazing to me that I’ve helped them overcome these issues and become resilient to tough situations,” she said.
Pilewski also works closely with parents and these rewards are just as fulfilling.
“I’ve had families come back to me and say that I found a way to help them and now they want to do their part in the community and help others. I’ve also witnessed the child of a parent that I have helped in the past grow and blossom because the parent or parents have become better advocates for their children after our sessions.”
She is thankful that she can enjoy herself at work and find happiness every day.
“One of the main reasons I love my job is because I laugh out loud at least once a day. A kid will tell me something and it will make me just laugh out loud with them. I don’t think many people are able to say this and I feel very lucky I can say this about my work,” she said.
Outside of her work, Pilewski continues to push boundaries and test her own personal limits. Running is a hobby, and it even ties in to some community and non-profit work. Pilewski has been a passionate supporter of Girls on the Run, a positive youth development program that encourages girls to be healthy, joyful and confident through running. She has acted as a running buddy for the girls and a Solemate, participating in a half marathon while raising funds for the program in the past.
“If I could thank all the people I’ve met throughout my life who have faced an obstacle - whether it be a financial, academic, physical, emotional - who found a way to get around it, I would because that shows me that I can do that, too.”