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Matthew Beck, who graduated in 2008 with his M.S. Ed. in school counseling from Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, was named the GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) 2013 Educator of the Year. Beck is in his sixth year as a professional school counselor at Erie Elementary School in Erie (IL).
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WIU School Counseling Alum Named GLSEN Educator of the Year

May 14, 2013

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MACOMB, IL — An alumnus of Western Illinois University has been named the GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) 2013 Educator of the Year. Matthew Beck, who graduated in 2008 with his M.S. Ed. in school counseling from WIU-QC, was recognized with the annual award by the organization last week. Beck is in his sixth year as a professional school counselor at Erie Elementary School in Erie (IL).

According to May 7 GLSEN press release, the organization's Educator of the Year honor "recognizes an exceptional education professional who has enriched his or her community by ensuring that all students, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, are safe from bullying and harassment. The award honors an educator who works not only to ensure safety, but impacts measurable change that is visible within that person's school district and community."

The GLSEN release stated that, last year, the Erie Community Unit School District school board banned GLSEN materials and elementary school resources that teach respect for all families and address anti-LGBT name-calling. According to GLSEN, the district banned such programs as "No Name-Calling Week," which is endorsed by more than 50 national education and youth organizations. The district also banned "Ready, Set Respect!," an elementary school toolkit created in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

In response to the ban, Beck worked to produce a reading night activity to address the inability to use these materials in the school.

"After GLSEN and resources that depicted same sex families, non-traditional family structures and LGBT were not allowed to be used at Erie Elementary School, parent advocates kept asking me as the professional school counselor for ways for their children to hear these messages. Along with parent and colleague support, retired area teachers read age-appropriate inclusive books and GLSEN materials and led our evening in healthy and respectful conversations. Many parents, community members and children attended the educational reading night. Author Todd Parr sent a personal Skype to Erie children reading his favorite story, 'The Family Book,'" Beck explained.

According to Beck, before the ban, the Erie Elementary School has benefited immensely from GLSEN programs. He noted that GLSEN's "Ready, Set, Respect!" tool-kit helped the elementary school tackle biased language and name-calling concerns in early 2012 and helped build more culturally responsive classrooms by recognizing and fostering the diversity of all students, staff and families.

Beck, who describes his philosophy as one that encompasses "respect for all," is a presenter in the educational community and helps schools address LGBT and multicultural issues. Since earning his M.S. Ed. in school counseling, he has presented in several educational courses that address creating safe and affirming school climates at Western. Since 2010, Beck has worked with graduate level students in group-counseling settings and served as a substitute instructor for faculty in the WIU Department of Counselor Education.

"I learned about the school counseling program available at Western from Dr. Holly Nikels, and as a student there, the faculty taught me to epitomize the strength that you do not give up and retreat when setbacks arise, especially when it goes against what is ethical. My philosophy has been fostered by my professional training, mentorship and advocacy that I learned at Western," he said. "Professional school counselors serve as agents of change in schools by creating comprehensive and developmental programs that teach children it is okay to be different, that families come in all shapes and sizes and that respect for others is the common goal we can all share and strive for. The professional mentorship provided to me by Dr. Nikels prepared me to design school counseling programs in which every child can learn to their fullest potential."

According to Nikels, Beck's commitment to his students and his profession are apparent in all he does.

"On behalf of WIU's counselor education department, I want to congratulate Matt on this well-deserved honor. He consistently uses what is best for children as his compass in developing and implementing prevention programming and interventions for his students. Matt is a respected counseling professional, an honorable WIU alumnus and a cherished colleague. We are proud to have been a part of his journey," Nikels said.

Beck added that Erie's motto—which is "Where Children Come First"—has served as his motivation and kept him focused and grounded in creating welcoming classrooms for all over the last year.

"Erie educators have partnered with me in advocating for positive, respectful and inclusive programs," Beck said. "For my students, I just want them to remember to keep celebrating who they are."

For more information, contact Beck at (563) 340-7376 or via e-mail at

Learn more about the WIU-QC counselor education department at

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