A Graduation Story You Can Dance To (#95)

More than a decade ago, in an effort to help a struggling student stay engaged with and eventually graduate from high school, counselor Aimee Portteus and her student Hannah developed a friendship and a fundraising effort that dramatically shows the power of what school counseling can do for students and communities.

Encouraging Words for School Counselors
Encouraging Words for School Counselors
A Graduation Story You Can Dance To (#95)
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This Week's Storyteller

Hanah Jacobs is a graduate of Plymouth High School in northern Indiana and a support teacher at Washington Discovery Academy. When not at work, Hanna loves spending time with her family and playing with her niece and nephew. Her former school counselor, Aimee Portteus, is the Director of School Counseling Initiatives at Inspire Success.

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Transcript

Matt Fleck:
Hi everyone, welcome back to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast and our last official podcast of the 21-22 school year. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success and I am guessing that your school year is either over now or fairly close to wrapping up. And the good news is – if you can hear my voice – you survived! So congratulations.

Appropriately, this week’s podcast is about graduation, but also about a special relationship between a student and her school counselor. Our own Aimee Portteus – who is Inspire Success’s Director of School Counseling Initiatives and a school counselor for almost 30 years at Plymouth High School in northern Indiana – sat down just a few days ago with her former student Hannah to reminisce about their special relationship. 

Aimee Portteus:
Hello, Hannah, how are you today?

Hannah Jacobs:
Good. How are you?

Aimee:
I’m good. As you know, we are getting ready to do a podcast here called Encouraging Words for School Counselors. So before we begin, I would like you to tell our audience who you are, a little bit about yourself, and how you know me.

Hannah:
All right. Obviously, my name is Hannah. I grew up in Plymouth, my whole life, and I know Aimee from first of all, meeting her when my sister was in high school and then having Aimee as my counselor when I was in high school.

Aimee:
And can you tell them a little bit about your experience in high school? Did you like high school, Hannah?  

Hannah:
Yes and no. Yes, because of all of my clubs and everything I could do; no, because academics were really hard. Did not like Spanish at all…

Aimee:
Not gonna lie. I remember that.

Hannah:
Yeah, that was, that was not a fun time and math. That was really hard, trying to pass the ECA.

Matt:
ECA stands for Indiana’s Math and English End of Course Assessments – the high-stakes standardized tests that all high school students USED to have to pass in order to graduate. 

Aimee:
What helped you keep going when you knew times were tough?

Hannah:
Having you there to tell me that I could do it and get through it and helping me find tutors to help me with the math and with the Spanish. 

Aimee:
Yeah. Tutoring was very helpful to you, wasn’t it? 

Hannah:
Yes.

Aimee:
Most of your tutors were peer tutors, right?

Hannah:
Yeah.  

Aimee:
Right. Absolutely. Who was your favorite peer tutor?  

Hannah:
Your daughter.

Aimee:
Exactly. <laugh> little shout out to Ella Portteus, right? 

Hannah:
Yes. Excellent! Best Spanish tutor ever.  

Aimee:
<laugh> Great!

Hannah:
After I took my ECA test for the third time, maybe I think it was, I was sitting in study hall and I had a note passed to me from one of your runners saying, “You did it!” <laugh> immediately, I just start bawling. And I – look, I can’t remember whose classroom I was in. I was like, “Can I go?” She’s like, yes. I remember running down to the office.  

Aimee:
Pretty sure we did a happy dance together. Didn’t we?

Hannah:
You were already doing the happy dance before I got there.

Aimee:
Yeah. Yeah. The best part of standardized tests is when you get to see someone and say “You did it!” Yes. Yes.

Hannah:
So I joined the Key Club, which was doing projects around town and helping others. And I, when I was a sophomore, started Dance Marathon and came to you asking if you would help. And we all went off and started a Dance Marathon for Riley.

Aimee:
So how long did we do Dance Marathon? 10, 11 years together, right?  

Hannah:
Yeah.  

Aimee:
Yeah.  

Hannah:
It would be 10 years. 10 or 11. Yeah.  

Aimee:
And do you happen to know about how much money we raised over those years?  

Hannah:
I do not.

Aimee:
Several hundred thousand dollars though, right? Yeah.  

Hannah:
A lot.  

Aimee:
Can you tell us a little bit why Riley in particular is so important to you?  

Hannah:
So I am a Riley patient as well. I have spina bifida and hydrocephalus, so I cannot feel my lower body from my waist down and I have a shunt, which takes the fluid from my brain down. So I have been a patient for almost 27 years.  

Aimee:
And do you know what I know about you being a Riley kid? Two things, one I’ve never seen your video without crying. And I have seen it 25 times and I cry through it every single time.  

Hannah:
Mm-hmm  

Aimee:
<affirmative> two. It never stopped you from doing anything you wanted to do.  

Hannah:
Absolutely never did.  

Aimee:
It never did. What was built into you that you were just capable of doing everything you wanted to do, despite your difficulties,  

Hannah:
Just having family and friends like you always saying, you can do it no matter what, we would figure out different ways that I could do it. And we would always find a way and I would do it.

Aimee:
That’s right. That’s right. And I’m so I’m very honored that you included me in that group, but really you have amazing parents don’t you?  

Hannah:
Yes. Very much. Yeah. Amazing parents, amazing sister mm-hmm <affirmative> couldn’t do it without them.  

Aimee:
And they, I think that’s part of the reason I love your video so much because clearly anything they did, you did it too. Like I love the picture of you on horseback. That’s my favorite one.  

Hannah:
<laugh> my least favorite one.  

Aimee:
Oh no. I love that picture. That’s awesome. It’s awesome  

Hannah:
Of me screaming on a horse.  

Aimee:
<laugh> oh, screaming. See, I thought you were laughing. I didn’t realize you were scared.  

Hannah:
<laugh> no, I think I was screaming.  

Aimee:
Your parents were such good advocates for you. So let’s talk a little bit about graduation from high school. Walk back with me to that, that time, that practice, that actual ceremony. What role did your dad play in making sure that we were okay?  

Hannah:
So we had to have a bit of ramp, obviously.  

Aimee:
Yep.  

Hannah:
And for the ones who obviously don’t know my father, it has to be done the correct way. So we had to make sure that the ramp was long enough and safe enough for me and the others. Because everyone, if I’m remembering right, everyone walked up the ramp.  

Aimee:
Yep.  

Hannah:
So it had to be safe for everyone to go up and down that ramp.  

Aimee:
Yep. And just as importantly, just what we were talking about, your parents making sure that you always had every experience that every other kid had, we had a ramp that was safe. Mm-hmm <affirmative> but it would’ve required you by yourself going up the back of the stage. And he said, Hannah’s gonna do it just like everybody else.  

Hannah:
Don’t remember that

Aimee:
Oh, it was wonderful because he just wasn’t gonna back down for you and he didn’t have to. So, we had a big ramp and everybody used it and it was really cool.  

Hannah:
It was a very big ramp.  

Aimee:
It was a very big ramp. Yes. It took our custodial staff a little while to put it together, but it was fabulous and it just added to the atmosphere. Didn’t it?  

Hannah:
Yes.  

Aimee:
So what do you remember about that night?  

Hannah:
Being very nervous to walk up on that stage.  

Aimee:
Mm-hmm  

Hannah:
<affirmative> even though I have danced in front of hundreds of people walking up on that stage was very nerve wracking,  

Aimee:
Very nerve wracking. And everybody was so excited that you had worked so hard and gotten through it. And what do you remember about me on that night?  

Hannah:
Um, trying not to look at you because I knew you would be crying. So I couldn’t look at you and I couldn’t look at my parents because I knew what was happening. So I was like, just had to go get my diploma and turn right around, Not look at anyone.  

Aimee:
Yeah. I’ll tell you. What I remember about that night is that my favorite part of my entire career was reading everybody’s names at graduation. I loved it for years. And when I got to you, I couldn’t say your name, I had to stop for a second.  

Hannah:
I remember that.

Aimee:
A nice deep breath. And I think everybody thought I was just giving you time. But, really, I was giving me time.

Hannah:
I had to ask someone “Did she say my name?” Apparently, no.  

Aimee:
I had to gather myself together a little bit. Cuz you’d had such a good high school experience. I was so proud of you.  

Hannah:
Yes. It was rough at times, but we did it.  

Aimee:
We did it  

Hannah:
Between doing that. You helping me get through that and you chugging along with me for Dance Marathon, I will always be grateful for that

Aimee:
You know that I’m just as grateful to you for Dance Marathon, right? It was a life changing thing for me, too. And for our whole community, I just feel like kids really want to be part of that. And it  means something to them.  

Hannah:
Yeah. I had a fourth grader the other day ask me, “Now you’re coming to Riverside when we do Dance Marathon, right?” I’m like <laugh> if I can, yeah. So, yeah.

Aimee:
Well that’s another unique thing that we’ve done in Plymouth is that we do Dance Marathon K-12. Like everybody gets involved in it.

Hannah:
Everyone does it. Yeah. Everyone participates  

Aimee:
That’s right. One way or another. And there’s a lot of pizza that gets eaten over the years with these kids <laugh>  

Hannah:
I think I’m not gonna eat pizza this year. We’re gonna do something different. I ate too many pizzas over the years.  

Aimee:
That sounds good. 

Matt:
Hannah is now working with kindergartners through 4th graders as part of the support staff at Washington Discovery Academy in her hometown…just down the street from her former counselor, and now friend, Aimee.

We hope you have enjoyed our podcasts this year. A shout out to my dear colleagues Aimee Portteus who has recorded MANY of our podcasts this year, including this one of course, and Amy Seigle who provides the graphics, the social media contacts, the uploading of the podcast to ALL of the apps that you listen to us on, and everything else. Thanks team – you are awesome – and and thanks to YOU for listening and laughing and crying alongside us this year. 

We will be rebroadcasting some of our favorite episodes over the summer and then, this fall, join us for a slight change to the podcast format as we roll out stories from inspiring school counselors sharing their INSPIRING ideas…called, what else but Inspiring School Counselors. 

Thanks again for listening. Take care, and have a great summer.