Andrea Easley is known for her hugs.
“Everybody needs a hug,” said Easley, school counselor at Dunbar Primary. “I have kids who will come up and say they need a ‘huggie’. Sometimes the most challenging students need them the most.”
Easley spreads her hugs like sunshine around the primary campus that houses kindergarten through second-grade students. She talks to her dad on the phone at lunch break, and he always tells her, “Don’t forget: Spread some joy.”
And that’s exactly what she does.
“I start the day pulling students for quiet start, students with struggles,” she said. “We meet in the science lab. It’s structured. We have puzzles and on Mondays we share something that happened over the weekend.
“It’s being part of a group, it’s belonging. We end on a positive note. When they leave, they have a choice of a hug, smooth five or a high smooth five.”
Easley has a wonderful sense of humor, as well. She talked about how the kids call her Ms. E or Ms. Easley or even Ms. Easy, which makes her co-workers giggle. She even told a story about giving a disgruntled parent some “cranky cream” to rub on her hands so she would have a good attitude. The cream worked like a charm. She once said she was from LA in a job interview even though her accent suggested otherwise. She then confessed that it was LA otherwise known as Little Alto.
Easley tells stories of her childhood growing up in Lufkin and then Little Alto. Her dad was an ag teacher in Alto, so she and her sister Angela would go to school there even though they lived in Lufkin. Her dad would fix their hair and drive them to their grandmother’s house in his blue Volkswagen.
“My hair looked like horns sticking up everywhere,” Easley said. “Now I appreciate him. He was trying.”
He would drive the girls home to Lufkin late at night after a long day and would tend to drift off.
“Dad drove with his eyes closed,” Easley said. “I thought we were on a roller coaster.”
They quickly moved to Alto when her mother found out. Easley said that her dad’s students in his building trades class helped build their house as a school project. They lived on a farm tending beef cattle.
In high school, Easley was quite the athlete.
“I loved running track,” she said. “As a freshman I was beating seniors and my dad just knew I was going to get scholarships. But then I fell in love … with band.”
She played the clarinet. She also played the keyboard and the synthesizer in concert band. There were 38 in her graduating class, and she couldn’t be in athletics and band.
Easley went to Stephen F. Austin State University after high school and commuted with her sister.
“She dropped me off at my classes,” Easley said. “I wanted to be a teacher. I would line up my dolls when I was little.”
She even had a Willie Talk ventriloquist doll that she would reprimand for talking in class. She would “teach” her cousins and neighbors and would not put up with coloring outside the lines.
Some of her first jobs were working summer school, tutoring, and cleaning houses. She loves to organize.
After she got her degree in interdisciplinary studies specializing in English and Special Education with an ESL certification, she worked at Kurth Primary in third grade.
“There were lots of kids with a lot of emotional problems,” she said, “so I wanted to go back and become a counselor.”
Easley has worked at Kurth Primary, Herty Primary and now Dunbar Primary as a counselor for the past 16 years.
“My dad told me that in a classroom I can impact just 20 kids, but as a counselor I could help a lot more,” she said.
As a counselor, she helps students with social and emotional health, role plays, helps in classrooms, works to bond with parents, and doles out lots of hugs.
“Let my life be proof of his love, Jesus’ love,” she said. “God loves us all.”