MERIDIAN, Miss.—Lori Wilcher and husband Jimmy are the parents of three biological children and have been foster parents to 10 more.
Even so, the 41-year-old elementary school counselor and behavioral specialist with the Union Public School District often finds herself playing “mom” to hundreds of others. After only a few minutes in her presence, a visitor easily appreciates how passionate she is about children.
For the past two years, Wilcher also has been an adjunct professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian and, for two more years before that, a consultant for Meridian’s East Mississippi Center for Educational Development.
“Sometimes I can ruffle feathers, because I will always put the children first, no matter what,” she said recently during a discussion of her career. “I am an advocate for children; I want to do right by them.”
A Walnut Grove native, Wilcher is a communication/public relations graduate of Mississippi College. For seven years, she combined her educational training and knowledge to help her husband and their family business, Camo Kids.
As family and company both expanded, the couple decided to sell the business so she could be a stay-at-home mom. A few years later, after having earned a teaching certificate through an alternate-route program, she was approached by the headmaster at Leake Academy in Madden.
“He told me he thought I’d make a great school counselor and wanted to know if I’d be interested in going back to school to earn my degree,” Wilcher recalled.
She gave serious consideration to the offer, then decided to enroll in MSU-Meridian’s graduate counselor education program. After logging post-graduate hours in counseling and psychology at the Lauderdale County campus, she went to earn a doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Wilcher said being a counselor has proven to be a “perfect fit,” as has teaching graduate classes in the MSU-Meridian program from which she graduated. Advancing her career there provided “a perfect window” into learning because it enabled her to practice in the field while a student.
As she looks back on those days, Wilcher gives special appreciations to Julia Porter, now head of the education division, former associate professor Josh Watson, as well as lecturer George Thomas.
“They had real-world experience and a good grasp on the profession that they brought into the classroom,” she said.
As was done to her, Wilcher said she now shares with counseling majors “the success stories, strategies and programs I’ve implemented in my own school district” because “it helps make the theories they are learning in the classroom more applicable.”
Additionally, she constantly stresses that, while counseling “is not for faint of heart, it can be so rewarding.
“We need people who will continue to be passionate about the counseling profession and be an advocate for us to be able to continue to do what we need to do in the profession for the children in our care,” she said.
In conclusion, she alluded to a counseling theory known as unconditional positive regard.
“I just call it unconditional love,” she said. “The children I see know that even when I’m not happy with their actions, I care about them and I love them, just like a mom would.
“It’s a balancing act and one I walk every day.”
For more about the counseling and other graduate-degree programs at MSU-Meridian, visit www.meridian.msstate.edu/academics/education/degree-programs/graduate.
Mississippi State, the Magnolia State’s flagship research institution, is online at www.msstate.edu.
Picture: Lori Wilcher uses a rubber band to demonstrate to student volunteers Julia Harrison, a first grader, and Malik Donald, a fourth grader at Union Elementary School how words, like rubber bands, when let go too fast can hurt someone. Wilcher is elementary school counselor, the district’s behavioral specialist and adjunct professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian.