ILWACO — When Betsy Quay, a lifelong east-coaster, decided she was ready for a change, she looked across the U.S. to find it.
“I thought I’d try out the West Coast,” she said recently in her office at Hilltop Middle School. Quay (pronounced “qu-way”) was hired over the summer as the new full-time counselor at the school, and so far, she’s been making quite an impression.
“If the first thee weeks is any indication, Betsy was absolutely the right person for the job,” said Hilltop principal Todd Carper last week.
Quay moved to the Peninsula from Lancaster, New Hampshire, a state she had lived in most of her life, and where she worked as a counselor in a middle school the last two years. And while others may be scared off by the behaviors of junior high kids, Quay feels the exact opposite.
“I like middle-schoolers,” she said. “They’re in that weird, awkward stage and it’s fun.”
Quay said her role is to be an extra support for students, socially and emotionally, as well as working to support them in their academics.
“Just making sure they have what they need to be successful,” she said. “Middle-schoolers are at that point in their life where they’re trying to figure themselves out. They’ve got school, which can be difficult. They’ve got things outside school that can be difficult. Their friendships are changing. They’re figuring out who they are and where they fit in.”
Quay said she mostly deals with social issues, dynamics between peers, a lot of emotional regulation and working on coping skills. She feels like she excels in the social and emotional side of things.
“That is kind of the basis for everything else,” Quay said.
According to Ocean Beach Schools Superintendent Jenny Risner, there are many reasons for and benefits to having a full-time counselor at Hilltop.
“They identify and address the needs of students who might otherwise fall through the cracks, and they also teach students how to handle difficult situations effectively,” she said last week. “They take time to process problems and identify solutions. Basic coping skills that hopefully they are able to use in their adult life.”
Risner said Quay also works as a support for teachers “who may identify an academic or potential social/emotional issue” with a student.
“This allows for a much more proactive, rather than reactive approach,” said Risner.
Principal Carper said Quay has already become a vital part of school.
“She has become a valuable member of our staff and has developed relationships with kids,” he said last week. “(She’s) had to deal with some pretty difficult situations with some kids.”
Carper said Quay rose to the top of the applicants who had applied for the job for number of reasons, including her previous experience working with junior high kids in a school with similar demographics.
“Because it has been so long since the middle school has had a counselor, we needed someone that could ‘start from scratch’ and develop a comprehensive middle school counseling program,” Carper said. “Through the interview process, we felt that Betsy was best prepared for that.”
And while former Dean of Students Sean Bresnahan would often work with struggling kids, the last time there was a full-time counselor at Hilltop was during the 2009 school year, when it was a combined 7-12th grade building.
Quay said she’s been very happy with how her first few weeks have gone.
“The staff is awesome and supportive of each other, and the kids are the same. It’s just a very positive atmosphere to be in,” she said. “It’s fun to come to work.”
Quay particularly likes working with students across the four grade levels at the school. She’s learned how to communicate effectively, even with challenging kids.
“I’m very patient,” she said. “You just kinda have to have a bag of tricks, and figure out what works for a kid. You might have to get creative to get the information you need.”
Quay said she could see herself staying at Hilltop for awhile, despite the weather-based warnings she’s received from her colleagues.
“People keep telling me, ‘wait till the winter comes!’ but I like it so far,” she said.