Building A Bridge With Love

Sumiton Middle School counselor living her dream

By Suzie Walton | Images by Blakeney Clouse

Today Ashleigh Lockhart proudly walks the halls of Sumiton Middle School smiling at the eager faces and high-fiving a student’s achievement. These are halls she once romped as an elementary and middle schooler. Now, as the middle school counselor, she is an advocate for the young fifth- through eighth-graders who have taken her place, and she is living her dream.

As far back as she can remember, this Dora High School graduate wanted to be a teacher. Growing up, she lived next to her grandparents, her dad’s sister, her dad’s brother, and a host of cousins, so she had a classroom full of kids before she ever enrolled in school. 

“All I ever wanted to do was play school,” Ashleigh recalls. “Living so close to my family made it easy for my seven cousins and me to set up desks my uncle built for us and play school in the storage building he converted into a school for us. It reminded me of the school on Little House on the Prairie. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher.” 

Sixteen years ago, her dream came true and Ashleigh returned to her old school—not as a student but as a second-grade teacher. She attributes her desire to pursue education to many former teachers who showed love to her and her classmates.

“All through elementary, middle, and high school I had wonderful, caring teachers,” she explains. “I witnessed the love my teachers had for all of us students, and I want so much to give back to my students what I have been given.”

Ashleigh knows that it is easy for young children to desire a career in elementary school only for that pursuit to lose its luster as the years pass. However, her fifth-grade teacher Sheila Gravlee’s compassion and love for her students impacted Ashleigh. Then, in high school her desire was further kindled.

“Vonda Beatty was one of my high school math teachers and she was phenomenal,” Ashleigh says, smiling as she remembers how much she hated math. “She loved me through the math struggles. She was the kind of teacher who helped you understand the math, and you didn’t know how she did it, but she did. She inspired me to continue in my pursuit of a degree in elementary education.”

After nine years as a second-grade teacher, Ashleigh believed she was needed in other areas of the field. She says, “I had a particularly difficult student in second grade who needed help. I felt I could help the students more as their counselor, and I would have more opportunity to bridge the communication gap between teacher and kids or teacher and parents.” With the support of her husband, Cody, she decided to leave the classroom. Ashleigh believes as counselor she is like a bridge of love that provides the basis for communication the kids, teachers, and parents need.

“The most rewarding part of my career is when a kid lets me know he or she feels loved or safe by something I’ve done to help,” she says. For Ashleigh this counseling position in a school that feels like home is not only rewarding, but it is also influencing another generation.

“My little girl now has those desks my uncle made so long ago,” she smiles as thinks about the scene playing out. “Not only does Annleigh Cate share my love of dance, but now she and my son, Easton, play school with those desks. So, I guess the tradition continues.” 78

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