Miles Nelson never wanted to be a school counselor growing up. Miles never wanted to be a counselor at all, actually.
“I was always really good at math and science, so I always just knew I would be an engineer,” he said.
But, while attending Virginia Tech, he experienced an event that changed the trajectory of his life and career. On April 16, 2007, a gunman opened fire on campus, killing 32 and injuring 23. What Miles saw in the aftermath of this tragedy steered him toward mental health.
He switched his major to psychology and discovered how much he loved helping others. But even then, he wasn’t sure he wanted to work with kids. He liked concentrating on older teens and adults struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
But a boss at the time started assigning him to support more and more young children, and he realized how much he liked working with kids.
“They’re just so open,” he said. “They wear their openness on their sleeves and they’re more willing to open up about what’s challenging them. They just want someone to listen.”
It was after this transition that he started working with children in schools as a therapeutic counselor in elementary schools.
“You have the ability to make such a difference in the community when you work in a school,” he said. “You get a good sense of the systemic changes you can make to really make an impact on that community.”
After working in a few different school divisions throughout the state, Miles joined ACPS full time at Baker-Butler Elementary School about three years ago. In April, he stepped into the role of Coordinator of Mental Health and Wellness for the division.
“It’s so exciting to finally have a coordination of services,” he said.
Part of the new position is coordinating the mental health counselors that ACPS was able to hire using federal CARES funding.
“The back and forth between in-person and virtual school over the past year was pretty anxiety-inducing for our students,” Miles said. “We want to make sure we have adequate staff at each school to address that issue in our community.”
From there, Miles will work with all of the mental health and school counselors to create a network of resources to ensure that all schools have the resources they need to serve their students. He will also coordinate with local outpatient therapeutic services to help families access the help they may need.
Miles said this position is integral to serving the needs of the ACPS community.
“Bringing all of it together can really change how we look at mental health in Albemarle County,” Miles said, “and it can help us better serve our students. And that’s the most important thing.”