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INDIANAPOLIS – Health experts have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health. They say the pandemic has created a crisis along with the many other challenges kids face.

Inside Indianapolis Public Schools’ Butler Lab School 55, the counseling room is the busiest in the building.

“The best way I can describe it is like the heartbeat of the building,” explained Aaron Munson, the school counselor. “It has the pulse on everything from student interaction, education, achievement, discipline, all the way to home situations, find out what’s going on.”

He added, “Counselors are the point person for absolutely everything.”

As school counselor, Munson is dedicated to working through issues with his students while also having some fun, as you can tell by his spirit day outfit.

“This shows my school spirit,” he said, “and clearly, I have a lot of it.”

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for school counselors, like Munson. He’s seen first hand how it’s impacted his students.

“We were in person, we were virtual, we had hybrid with middle school, and trying to do all of that while being a counselor was immensely difficult,” said Munson. “The challenge of social interaction, knowing how to do that well. Basic skills that I’m seeing such a weakness in like taking turns on the playground and knowing how to share.”

Munson is doing everything he can to bridge the gap, even if that means working into the night. During the transition to virtual learning, he made more than 90 home visits.

Along with one-on-one and lunch-group sessions, he also created a peer mediation program. He’s worked with kids to train them to solve problems on their own, peacefully, with other students.

“It’s one of my proudest accomplishments and most beautiful things,” said Munson. “At this point in the year we have an 86% reduction in office referrals because this is such a powerful tool.”

His programs and attitude led him to be nominated and awarded for Indiana Elementary School Counselor of the Year. It’s a title that his students say is well deserved.

“I knew Mr. Munson for two years now, and Mr. Munson is like the coolest counselor and teacher you could ever have,” said sixth grader Akira Hickenbottom. “He lets us know that he’ll keep our secrets just with him, and he won’t let anybody else know unless we ask him if he could tell our parents about it.”

Third grader Grace Escobar added, “When we’re having problems, we can always come in and help us solve our problems.”

As a school counselor, Munson wants the best for his students in and out of the classroom, and this award he said, is for them.

“They deserve the best administrators, the best teachers, the best counselors and the best chances,” said Munson.

Munson will be formally honored as Indiana’s Elementary School Counselor of the Year on Friday, November 12.