When 10-year-old Hailey Owens was found murdered last year, it shocked the Springfield Public Schools’ system and the community. SPS counselor Garra DeLong Crews was there to help pick up the pieces.
Althought Crews didn’t work at Hailey’s Westport Elementary, she does serve the students and faculty at Pleasant View School, the former workplace of football coach and paraprofessional Craig Michael Wood, the sole man charged in Hailey’s abduction and murder.
“Even though it was an extremely difficult time for all of us, I was proud to be part of the team that helped lead our staff, students and community through the crisis,” Crews says, of learning the suspect was someone the school worked with and knew well. “No amount of time or training ever prepares you for how to handle such an unimaginable event.
“I wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on anyone, but it was amazing to see the strength and healing that can come from love and support, even after something so completely devastating.”
As Crews helped the school cope with the news, Midwest Family Broadcasting recognized her, along with the K-8 building’s middle school counselor, as Teacher of the Month, the only time the award has been given simultaneously to two people and the only time it has been given to a non-classroom teacher.
“They said they had received so many phone calls, letters and emails they made an exception for us,” she says. “It was rewarding to know others recognized all the hard work put into trying to return to a new normal.”
SPS Manager of Counseling Services Rhona Mammen says Crews ability to connect with students is a great asset to the school.
“Students are drawn to her,” she says. “She seems to meet them where they are. She laughs with them and cries with them.
“She will quickly respond without hesitation and brings a sense of strength and calmness to the team.”
Beyond crisis response, Crews leads the SPS Elementary Counselor Social Committee, is the National Education Association representative and collaborated with a co-worker last fall to create a College and Career workshop.
But helping form young minds isn’t Crews’ only job, she also is co-owner of the family business, DeLong Plumbing LLC.
“I am often pulled in numerous directions,” she says, “While I love both my jobs, it takes an immense amount of time and energy to be successful at both.”
In what little free time she has, Crews is a constant fundraiser for organizations such as Relay For Life, Rare Breed and Harmony House.[[In-content Ad]]