Larry Vinson feels drawn to help those struggling with direction.
Vinson is a licensed minister with the United Pentecostal Church International and a restaurant manager. As a student in the Master of Science in Education in School Counseling online program at Arkansas State University, he is also completing a school counseling practicum at a high school in Brookland, a growing suburb of Jonesboro, Arkansas.
“I’ve always had an interest in helping people,” Vinson said. “Even before I started this master’s program, in my job as a manager of a restaurant, I’ve always enjoyed helping my teenagers who work for me try to figure out what they want to do with their lives and how to get to where they want to go. I’ve helped them write entrance essays, fill out admission forms, and even financial aid paperwork.”
Helping his employees was rewarding, but Vinson decided at age 32 to do more with his life, earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology before going back for his master’s at 40.
“As a restaurant manager, I just wasn’t making as big of a difference in people’s lives as I wanted to,” he said. “I feel like with working with kids, whether it be in high school, middle, or elementary, it will give me a better opportunity to help mold and shape their lives. That makes me feel good.”
Though some may hesitate to go back to school later in life, Vinson feels his age gives him a perspective he would not have had in his 20s.
“I’m a nontraditional student, which gives me the advantage of having the life experience that some younger people might not have,” he said. “Both my parents were in hospice care, and I lost them both within the last year. I’ve seen my fair share of crises, and in turn, I’ve helped people get through a lot. Counseling and crisis management just comes naturally to me.”
Getting to Work
As a student in COUN 6213: Counseling Practicum, Vinson spends his days getting into the real work that being a school counselor entails.
He has the opportunity to counsel students, do academic and behavioral interventions and teach classroom guidance under the supervision of the senior high school counselor Kami Barkley; he recently helped set up a college fair for recruiters from all over the state of Arkansas to come and talk to the Brookland High School seniors.
“I’ll have to say that, so far, my favorite class has been practicum,” Vinson said. “I get to be at the high school for about four days a week, and I’m getting to work with kids and learn from all of these new experiences.”
Not only has the practicum given Vinson a taste of his dream job, it has also allowed him to apply his digital classroom learnings to helping high school students.
“In Crisis Counseling [COUN 6433] you learn how to look for the different signs and signals, whether they’re verbal or nonverbal, and pick up on the cues that someone may be in a crisis situation,” Vinson explained. “There are a couple of students that I’ve been working with here who suffer with anxiety and depression. Some of the suggestions from the research I have done have allowed me to reach out to them, help them and offer them a safe space where they can come and talk or just sit and cry if they don’t want advice.”
Most of Vinson’s practicum work is in the high school, and the time he spends teaching younger students calls for different methods.
“There are occasions where I get to go to the elementary school, and I teach them about kindness and how to be a good friend,” he said. “We were singing songs and jumping around and I thought, ‘I can’t believe that I’m going to get paid to do this for a living.'”
Finding the Good
Between the practicum, schoolwork, manager job and ministry, the demands on Vinson’s time are many, and he is thankful to have the support of his wife, Melanie.
“She has been just great at helping me manage my stress levels,” he said. “She also helps me stay organized.”
Vinson appreciates being able to gain valuable experience with all school-age groups before he decides where he would like to specialize.
“I’m having fun on all levels to be honest,” he said of working with high school and elementary school students. “Next semester, I will be in Counseling Internship I [COUN 6223] working strictly at the high school level, and the next semester I will be in Counseling Internship II [COUN 6233] working in the middle school. So I’m not quite sure where I want to be yet, but I do know I’m having a great time trying to figure it out.”
Staying single-minded tops Vinson’s tip sheet for tough days.
“You need to be really passionate about it because there are some days that are hard, but I think that the good days outweigh the bad days,” he said. “A bad day for me is feeling like maybe I didn’t help a student in the way that I could have, but I strive to be the best that I can be. I’m determined to make a difference in my students’ lives.”
For the less-than-ideal days, Vinson has a humble goal.
“The way I look at this is how I looked at it with my ministry at church as well,” he said. “If I can help just one person, then I’m doing well.”