In Portage, Indiana, there’s a saying: Portage Proud. Sarah Wilkins, a school counselor at Portage High School (PHS), embodies that.
“I love the sense of pride that we have here. I feel like it’s been there since I was little and whether it’s supporting our sports teams or anything else, there’s such a sense of pride and community that I love,” she said.
Born and raised in Portage, Wilkins grew up watching her father, a Portage police officer for more than 30 years, and her mother, a teacher at Lake Central, caring for the community and giving back. Their example confirmed that she wanted to do the same.
“I always felt like I was going to do something in the social services field. Whether it was education or something else,” she said.
After graduating from PHS, Wilkins earned her bachelor’s from Purdue Northwest and went on to complete a master’s in school counseling. She then took her first position in the Portage Township Schools at Willowcreek Middle School. Eventually, she found herself at her alma matter, PHS, where she worked as a school advisor for two years until a counselor position opened. She’s been a school counselor for six years and finds great joy in what she does.
“I love it. I enjoy getting to see the kids. It’s so nice to get to talk to them one-on-one and in small groups, they open up more,” she said. “I love seeing students grow. You see them come in as a freshman and seeing how they continue to grow and become these adults right before your eyes is amazing.”
The range of work Wilkins does for her students extends from helping an 8th-grader prepare for high school, providing a student with college/career advice, ensuring that a student has the credits needed to graduate, to working one-on-one or in groups with students in need. Having been a student at PHS herself, Wilkins has that extra sense of understanding.
“When I was at PHS it was a totally different school but I feel like I’m more connected because I kind of know where a lot of kids are coming from, I’ve walked in their shoes at one point in time. That’s the best part of working at the same school I graduated from,” she said.
For Wilkins, one of the best parts of working with high school students is building trust and creating a relationship where the student feels safe enough to reach out when they have a problem or need. Wilkins knows that the entire school system has played its part in making the students feel safe and comfortable with school support staff.
“We have a lot of kids that have become familiar and comfortable with us and they want to come and talk to us. I’m just happy that they feel they have support. It’s so amazing that they feel that trust and feel like they can be 100 percent themselves with us,” she said.
Over the years, Wilkins has learned a very important life lesson that she likes to pass to her students.
“Be patient. The right things will come at the right time. I tell students that every day. I tell them to enjoy being a kid and enjoy not having adult responsibilities. It will happen, and it happens fast and you can’t go back,” she laughed.
While Wilkins supports students at school, she is thankful for her own support system that allows her to balance her work and home life.
“I’m proud of how I’ve balanced a career and being a mom. It’s tough, especially as a single parent. It’s hard to be everything to everyone all the time. My biggest accomplishment has been keeping it all together,” she said. “My support system is fantastic. At work, I have a great group of coworkers who all help out, my family’s close and that’s so helpful. I’ve been able to lean on people when I needed and to reach out to them and get that time that I need to refocus because some days are rough. You hear and see things and you just need to decompress for a minute, so it’s hard to switch from counselor mode to mom mode.”
When Wilkins isn’t hard at work at the high school, she’s spending time with her daughter or family and friends. And if they can be outside, even better.
“I enjoy spending time with friends and family, going to the beach, and being outside when it’s nice. Taking advantage of any nice weather in this area is a huge thing!” she said.
Whether its pride in herself and the work she does or pride in her community, the Portage schools, and students, Wilkins is an excellent example of Portage Proud.