Position: School Counselor
District: Jeffco Public Schools
Location: Arvada, CO
Sandy Austin, a 2018-19 LifeChanger of the Year nominee, taught Physical Education for 11 years and has been a school counselor for 22 years. When all of the district mental health professionals were called to the scene of Columbine High School on April 19, 1999, it was familiar territory for her, since she student-taught at Columbine. She became one of the most involved counselors in the aftermath of the tragedy, as she wanted to be there for a community she loved. Sandy has also responded to two other school shootings in Colorado, plus many other tragedies as a member of her school and district crisis response teams for 20 years.
When she was a counselor at Green Mountain High School, devastation rocked the community in the 2001-02 school year after four student suicides. As a result of her Columbine and Green Mountain experiences, Sandy started the B.I.O.N.I.C. Team (which stands for Believe It Or Not I Care) which empowers students to reach out to those facing challenging times with the hopes of preventing them from spiraling down into more serious issues including suicide ideation.
Sandy is now a counselor at Pomona High School and her B.I.O.N.I.C. Teams at GM and Pomona over the past 14 years have had over 1,200 students involved who have reached out directly or indirectly to over 140,000 people facing challenging times. The B.I.O.N.I.C. Teams at both schools were named the “Outstanding Youth Group” by the National Philanthropy Day in Colorado – 10 years apart. Over 950 schools worldwide have inquired about starting a B.I.O.N.I.C. Team, which inspired Sandy to expand B.I.O.N.I.C. to a nonprofit organization
Sandy was named a finalist for the national “School Counselor of the Year” by the American School Counselor Association in 2011, and was the “High School Counselor of the Year” in 2007 by the Colorado School Counselor Association. In April, 2019 she is receiving the “Norma Anderson Lifetime Achievement in Education Award” by the Jeffco Schools Foundation. Sandy has also served as President three times of state counseling organizations in Colorado and is the facilitator for the Crisis Professional Interest Network for ASCA. She has written three books and numerous articles and has spoken across the country at conferences and in radio and television interviews.