By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Counselor Michelle Mills works with nearly 550 students at Gubser Elementary, making sure they all get what they need socially and emotionally.

But she also stays in contact with children once they leave the school.

When one student was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Mills came up with solutions to help him stay focused and on task both in the classroom but also at home. And when that student was accepted to a different school that could better meet his needs, Mills cleared her schedule to be there on his first day to help with the transition.

“Andre has been at a different school for almost three years and she still checks in to see how he’s doing, the boy’s mother, Allison Davis, wrote in a letter nominating Mills for a Crystal Apple. “I can honestly say Miss Mills is the best thing to happen to Andre and me. She was his friend when he felt like he had none. Miss Mills was there for his best days and was there and helped on his worst days. I am truly thankful for everything she has done. She gave me hope when I needed it the most.”

Michelle Mills at the Crystal Apple Award ceremony earlier this month. (Submitted)

Michelle Mills at the Crystal Apple Award ceremony earlier this month. (Submitted)

When a new student was having a tough time adjusting to Gubser and having behavioral problems, Mills would spend most of her day helping him cope with the stress of the school. And when the boy’s mom got him an appointment to see a local child psychiatrist, Mills went with them, even though snow and ice cancelled school and most of the district staff was off that day.

That kid has also moved on but Mills stayed in touch.

“When kids leave here that doesn’t mean that’s the end of my time with them, especially when it’s not that they just graduated and moved on,” Mills said. “You spend the most time with the kids that have the most needs so I get to know them the best. They wiggle their way into your heart. I like to keep in touch with them.”

Mills received one of 13 Crystal Apples out of 47 nominees at a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 4 at Salem’s Historic Elsinore Theater.

“Just the nomination itself was amazing,” Mills said. “It was just nice to know that the work I do day in and day out was recognized by other people.”

Mills, who grew up in Forest Grove, has been the school counselor at Gubser for 16 years.

“A lot of my friends growing up came from divorced families or in crisis families and I didn’t have that and I always felt really lucky to come from a family that wasn’t a broken home and just was always fascinated with helping and supporting people that needed that help,” Mills said. “I wanted to work with kids and I just really liked the school setting where you got to work with all the kids instead of just select ones.”

Along with doing exercises in problem solving and anger management for all the students at Gubser, Mills also runs small groups for kids who need additional help and works with children one-on-one.

She brought Pennies for Patients to both Gubser and Cummings, where she also worked for three years during budget cuts.

Gubser alone has raised $15,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I just wanted our school to do a community service project,” Mills said.

Mills also coordinates a memorial fund, named after former Parent Teacher Club Treasure Cathy Short, who lost her battle with cancer. Each year, Gubser uses $400 from the club’s budget to help its students in need with basics like clothing, tooth brushes, sleeping bags, glasses and even paid the electric bill for a family last year.

“She stretches every dollar and finds ways to make the biggest impact with the Memorial Fund money,” said Vickie Jackson, the club’s bookkeeper. “Cathy Short would be so proud.”

Mills noted she gets a lot of help from the Gubser staff.

“I love everything about this school,” she said. “Our staff is not just a staff, it’s a family and most people refer to it as our work family, our Gubser family. People don’t usually leave from here unless they’re retiring so we’ve all gotten to know each other really well and when things are rough, we’re there to support each other. It’s not my kids and your kids. It’s our kids so everyone is willing to always step up and help others and when people are in need and struggling, whether it’s personal or at school, everyone’s got each other’s back for that as well. We look out for each other.”