Get to know Milford’s Shannon Gronau, Behavioral Pro of the Year

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Shannon Gronau and her students. (All photos courtesy of the

Shannon Gronau and her students. (All photos courtesy of the Delaware Department of Education)

Shannon Gronau from the Milford School District believes the movement behind mental health after the pandemic has shifted the paradigm of society and of public education.

The counselor at Mispillion Elementary School was recently named 2024 Delaware Behavioral Health Professional of the Year, an award honoring outstanding service by school employees who are health care practitioners or human service providers who work to improve an individual’s mental health. 

RELATED: Milford school counselor named state Behavioral Pro of Year 

“Our society has shifted and changed in a lot of ways and students fell out of their regular routines and so many things have changed not only for children, but also for parents and families,” she Gronau said, “so getting that support, not only academically but focusing on the basic needs of our children and their development, behaviorally and social emotionally, is just so important because we’re working with humans.”

Mispillion serves almost 600 students, and Gronau herself has about 300 of them on her caseload. 

She does one-on-one counseling and group counseling, and in those sessions, she works with her children to build skills on topics like conflict resolution, social skills, self-regulation, friendships, leadership and more. 

Gronau also goes directly into classrooms where she teaches lessons on different mindfulness techniques and even teaches students about the different parts of the brain and what each does and is responsible for.

“We then connect it too, so it’s like okay, I was upset, my amygdala went off and I remembered, you know, some techniques through my hippocampus on how to calm myself down,” she said. “It’s been really cool to see because our kids are like sponges and I feel like the more they understand what’s happening in the moment, the better prepared they are to be able to overcome obstacles.”

Gronau graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.  

“We had an internship at the end of our program where we got to go out and experience different pathways for psychology-related careers,” she said. “I picked school counseling and through that experience, I got to meet an amazing, wonderful school counselor and I was able to watch her work and realize that she impacted so many kids on such a wide scale.”

That’s when Gronau knew that was how she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children, and her goal to become a school counselor began.

“Growing up myself, through my own experiences, I felt like it was just so important to be a safe adult for children,” she said, “and be able to teach them empowerment and skills and tools that they can use to feel empowered.”

She then earned her master’s degree of science in school counseling through the University of Wisconsin.

Eventually, she landed up in the First State in 2015, where she started as a counselor at Dover High School in the Capital School District. There, she taught a leadership class elective for senior mentorship. 

She said it had a great impact on seniors and freshmen at the school. 

But, she wanted to get more experience at the elementary level, and began working in Milford in 2021. 

“My immediate reaction to winning the award was surprised but definitely honored, and my family was ecstatic for me and a lot of them felt really confident and it was just a wonderful moment,” she said. “My students are so thrilled that they’ve been celebrating with me all week. Everyone in the school came out into the hallway and was clapping for me, so I got to walk down the hallways and hug and high five all of my students, so it’s just been a really awesome experience.”

Winning the award is a celebration of her students as well, she said, specifically their progress and their work together with her, so she was just as happy to be able to celebrate with them as well.

Now in its third year, the award has been given to workers in the Milford School District twice. 

It’s given to either school social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses or licensed clinical social workers.

Rosa DiPiazza from the district won the inaugural award in 2022 and Dana Carey from the Lake Forest School District won last year. 

Gronau’s recognition is topped off with a $10,000 reward, $5,000 to be used for the educational benefit of her students and $5,000 for personal use.

The 19 other finalists – 18 from the other districts and one from the Delaware Charter Schools Network – received a $2,000 personal reward.

Gronau said her work boils down to focusing on the academic, behavioral and social-emotional support for students.

Normalizing what students might be going through is a key to her success working with them, and them going on to have healthy and successful lives.

It’s so important, Gronau said, for students to understand how certain things might trigger them or may make them feel upset, angry, sad and how to react to that.

“You know that it’s okay, we can’t always control our feelings, but we can control our actions and how we react to a situation,” she said. 

In the classes she teaches, there’s a curriculum on safety and Erin’s Law, which requires all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program.

These lessons teach young children how to act if they are in unsafe situations. 

Gronau does referrals for external counseling, and also works closely with community agencies the district is partnered with, which send workers in to do therapeutic work with students that need it. 

“Another really big important piece is that I also do crisis intervention,” she said. “That could be anything from a student in crisis who needs more supports outside of school, so that’s when I’ll connect the families and the student to a higher level of care.”

Gronau believes there has been a lot of improvements in the landscape of public education in Delaware over the past couple of years, including a lot of really important legislation that came through as far as putting more mental health support staff in each of the school buildings. 

That includes making sure that the ratio of mental health support staff to students is much lower than it would have been decades ago.  

This helps bring each counselor’s caseload down and makes sure students get the individualized support and attention they need, which in essence makes the work much more effective. 

However, she wishes there was more clarity across the state as to what the roles and duties of mental health support staff entails. 

“What happens is a lot of times, professionals in this field are pulled to do different things that we don’t have training or background on and that makes our roles a little bit more challenging and difficult because our time is spent elsewhere,” Gronau said, “so if you know if those roles or responsibilities were a little bit more linear and focused on what we were trained to do, I feel like we can do even better work.”

Gronau has a four-year-old daughter and a husband. 

In her free time, she loves going outside, rollerblading, journaling and singing.

Over the summer, Gronau will be training to complete a yoga instructor program.

She plans on bringing as much as she learns from that as possible into schools because it’s an educationally-based program that brings yoga and mindfulness mindsets and emotional learning into the schools.

“As counselors we’re working with people who are working through their daily lives and trying to do their best,” she said. “Students need to learn how to calm themselves and understand their feelings. That’s not always something that they’re getting anywhere else.”

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