Chance Encounter with Homeless Teen Mom Sets Career Path Filled with Purpose & Joy

Zoauntrist OldhamCounseling has always been Zoauntrist Oldham’s passion, and she considers it her calling. After an encounter with a homeless teenage mother during a college internship, she zeroed in on her passion for counseling students.

“Seeing a young homeless child sparked within me a desire to reach students in the school system before they reach this point. It gives me great joy to know that my job, passion, and drive are impactful to our children’s lives,” said Oldham.

Oldham is the head and eighth-grade counselor at Freedom Middle School. She was named DeKalb County School District’s (DCSD) 2021–2022 Educational Support Professional II of the Year at the district’s 8th Annual Academy of Educational Excellence Awards last March. DCSD celebrates the two educational support professionals of the year from each school and allows them to compete at the regional level, which results in seven regional winners. Each regional winner competes for the district’s highest honor, the “Eddy Award” for Educational Excellence.

Oldham said winning Educational Support Professional II of the Year is an unexpected milestone.

“It is a delight to know that my hard work has paid off and is recognized on a district level. I’m a counselor who does not seek to be in the light, but I believe in working hard,” she said. “I prefer to work hard to get things accomplished for our students, and I’m content in knowing that I’ve made a difference in our children’s lives.”

Oldham has been with DCSD since 2015. She began her career in 2004 and has worked for Henry County and Clayton County school districts. A product of DCSD, the 1991 Redan High School graduate wanted to return home and support the district that educated her.

“My experience working for DeKalb County School District has been both exhilarating and rewarding! I love walking through Freedom Middle School’s doors every day to influence our students positively,” she said.

Zoauntrist OldhamWhen she first arrived at Freedom, Oldham said she walked into a school that was underperforming and had chronic discipline challenges. She collaborated with the principal, Dr. Marchell Boston, to build a comprehensive school counseling program that focuses on empowering and edifying our student body.

“Serving as a head counselor, I’m able to implement programs that eliminate barriers and impede the progress of our students. I’m able to be a catalyst for systemic change as we work with students from all walks of life and nationalities,” she said. “I can implement therapeutic practices throughout the school day that teach students, faculty, and staff how to embrace wellness and self-care. I have the freedom to inspire all 1,100 of our students to be the best that they can be!”

Oldham said being a school counselor is a fulfilling profession. She feels accomplished when her students or colleagues tell her they feel better after talking with her.

“When I go into the hall to see my students, their faces light up, and it is then that I know I’ve made a difference in somebody’s life. Being a school counselor brings me joy,” she said. “I hope that my interaction with others will encourage them to pass the torch and sow a seed of excellence in promoting the success and well-being of others.”