ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Audrey Carney is the first guidance counselor to win the Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award from the Archdiocese of Louisville. Usually, the honor is given to a teacher.
“Some people think (being a counselor) is a limited role,” but it really isn’t, Carney said during a recent interview.
In her role as St. James’ counselor, Carney fosters relationships with students, working with them one-on-one in areas where they need additional help.
She also works with students in the classroom, in groups and through family meetings.
The Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award honors the spirit of Irene Casey, an elementary school teacher dedicated to meeting “the diverse learning needs of students in Catholic education,” according to a statement from the Office of Catholic Schools.
“We’ve had a huge influx of families wanting to come here because they’ve heard what we offer,” Carney said. “They come to us saying, ‘I heard you all have this. My kid has dyslexia and you have someone for that now.’ ”
She has worked at St. James School in Elizabethtown for the past 21 years, mostly part-time, but she became a full-time staff member this year.
“Every school environment is different, but what stands out at St. James is the staff is a family,” she said. “We operate as a team.”
A large part of Carney’s work this year has focused on expanding that team, bringing in seven new staff members to provide resources and support to the students — all aimed at meeting students’ diverse needs.
She said she’s been adamant about supporting students emotionally and academically, especially in light of the impact COVID-19 has had. She has focused on building relationships with individuals and businesses in the community and has been instrumental in adding speech therapists, occupational therapists, applied behavior analysis therapists and tutors to the school’s roster.
“No matter what they (students) need, I want to bring it here,” Carney said. “I’m huge about collaborating with community support. If there’s a doctor who says a kid would benefit from this, I’m going to the doctor asking how I can get it here.”
Because of the way Carney has set up those additional resources through the school, parents and guardians don’t have to worry about scheduling therapy appointments outside school hours or dealing with insurance.
St. James’ principal Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia Marie Hannah Seiler said she nominated Carney for the award because of how instrumental the counselor has been in growing the school’s student support system.
“She had the idea to provide something more for our middle school students,” Sister Seiler said in a recent phone interview. “Things like social, emotional, life skills. She’s kind of gone the extra mile to provide those for the kids.”
Sister Seiler said she believes “students of all ages feel very supported by her.”
“They know they can come to her. She often has someone waiting at her door for her because they feel comfortable talking to her even if they don’t have an appointment scheduled,” Sister Seiler said.
Carney has also increased resources for students who need enrichment and challenge in their curriculum.
During COVID-19, the school adopted Catholic Virtual, an online learning platform built for Catholic schools.
“We have kids on there taking high school classes,” Carney said. “We’re reaching kids who need enrichment and we’re providing resources. For some kids, it’s the gap to bridge for extra help and for some it’s the enrichment.”
Carney is licensed to provide mental health counseling in a private practice setting. She said she expected to work in a hospital using her master’s degree but after graduating, took an internship at a school.
“It didn’t take me that first year before I loved it,” she said. “When you enjoy your job, you aren’t just going to work. If you have something in life you’re passionate about, you aren’t just going to work. It’s the passion of your job, what you do, the enjoyment of that, it makes your job worth it every day.”