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Ronnie Thomas

Tina Kellet is the guidance counselor at Decatur High School. She has been an educator in Gadsden and Opelika over the years in addition to Decatur.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Tina Kellet is the guidance counselor at Decatur High School. She has been an educator in Gadsden and Opelika over the years in addition to Decatur.

Kellett offers wisdom, guiding hand to students

Addressing a jury pool in a Morgan County courtroom, prosecutor Paul Matthews asked if anyone knew the defendant's attorney, Kenneth Shelton Jr.

Several raised their hands, including a woman on the back row.

"And how do you know him?" Matthews asked.

"I taught him," replied Tina Kellett.

Later, it was Shelton's turn to query.

"How many of you, for whatever reason, just don't want to be on this jury?" he wanted to know.

"OK, how many of you want to be on this jury?"

Kellett raised her hand again. "Is this a trick question?"

"Now, Mrs. Kellett," Shelton responded. "You know me well enough to know that I'm not smart enough to ask a trick question."

Kellett knew better. She enriched his life and the lives of hundreds of other students with her wisdom and guiding hand in classrooms across North Alabama — at Gadsden's Disque Junior High, Opelika High, Stone Middle School of Huntsville, Grace Baptist Christian School and Brewer High School.

Grace Baptist students

During three years of teaching high school at Grace Baptist, Shelton was among several up-and-coming professional stars of Decatur in her classroom, including recently elected state Sen. Arthur Orr, psychologist Larry Little and Rick Smith, owner of Environmental Comfort Systems Inc.

"I had a speech impediment, a major stuttering problem," Shelton said. "Mrs. Kellett nurtured me along and encouraged me. I didn't have a lot of self- confidence."

She said, "Kenny's brain worked faster than he could speak. I told him to slow down. I'm so proud of Kenny. He was a smart young man, but he had to learn that he was a smart young man."

Once Kellett left the classroom, she continued to support students. For 19 years, she worked at the post office building for a federally funded program that assisted people applying for financial aid for college scholarships.

She is completing four years as guidance counselor at Decatur High School.

Kellett started her school career as a 5-year-old in Beaver Falls, Pa., where she was born on Christmas Day. She graduated at Gadsden High School in 1964 and earned her degree at Auburn University in rapid fashion in 1967. That December, she took her first teaching job at Disque.

When she taught government, economics and history the next year at Opelika, she had seniors in her classes who were older than she was.

"Adolescence is a difficult time, a turbulent time for teenagers," she said. "There has always been a lot of upheaval against the establishment, whatever (the establishment) is at the time."

Kellett said peer pressure has always been troubling for teenagers and that during the 1960s to 1980s, alcohol and drugs became common denominators for their problems.

"LSD was big then, although it wasn't in rampant use but heavy in small pockets," she said. "I understand it is making a comeback. It's more easily accessible now."

Kellett said problems are aggravated "because there is not as much parenting as there used to be. Because (parenting) wasn't handed down, many today don't know how."

She said that because so much technology floods students, including the media, they become used to immediate gratification and have not learned patience. But Kellett maintains the premise that no one is ever too old to learn.

"It's just there have been some other reasons that have kept them from taking that step to make better lives for themselves," she said. "People need support to be told they can do it, and sometimes I don't know who needs it the most.

"The fear of success can sometimes be as strong as fear of failure. Because they've never experienced success, they fear the unknown."

Kellett said she wants students to "get a glimpse of hope, to see something out there beyond the borders of Decatur. That's our goal as guidance counselors, for students to leave and be successful."

She saw that type vision in a student she recommended for a high tech symposium at Calhoun Community College.

"He was an average student, but I saw he was a good solid kid who would work hard," Kellett said. "He is the kind of student who might be overlooked. When I called him in to tell him Calhoun had accepted him, he said, 'You mean somebody thinks I can do something?' "

Kellett said every teacher has special bonds with students they've helped. There are enough success stories, she said, to make her job worthwhile. Kathy Huskey of Somerville is another.

"Her husband died, leaving her with two kids to raise. She knew it was up to her, so she returned to school," Kellett said. "She later went to work for NASA."

Kellett said nothing is more uplifting than having students return to show their gratitude.

"I had three during the summer that I helped get into Alabama State in Montgomery," she said. "They were in low-income service jobs. One came to me and said, 'I think college is for me now.' They brought balloons and a thank you card, and candy."

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
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