Leading The Way Profile

Betsy Wade on this month’s Leading the Way


Tell us a little bit about your background…

I’m in my 8th year as a school counselor at Polson High School.  I come from a family of educators – my dad serving as an elementary school principal for most of his career and my mom as an elementary school music teacher.  I grew up in Vermont and received my BA in Psychology from Dartmouth College in 2010.  After two years of working for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in Medora, North Dakota, I moved to Colorado.  There, after working as a paraprofessional in an elementary school for a year, I earned my Master’s of Education in Counseling and Career Development from Colorado State University in 2014.  I’m a member of the Leadership Flathead Reservation class of 2019 and I’m in the process of earning my administrative credential through the Dept. of Educational Leadership at the University of Montana.  I coach JV girls basketball at Polson High School and I am a member of the Mission Valley Choral Society.  I live in Polson with my husband, Chad, and four-year-old daughter, Sylvie.  

Describe the work you do with families and children…

As a high school counselor, I help support the academic, social/emotional, and career development of all students by collaborating with other educators, families, and community partners.  My work is quite varied and interesting – anything from helping a student plan out their high school course of study and creating their schedule, to assisting a student with organizational strategies and better study habits, to working with students on college applications and scholarships, to meeting with a group of teachers to brainstorm how to better support a struggling student, to connecting with community partners on career development opportunities and ideas, to meeting with a parent about their student’s attendance struggles, to teaching classroom lessons on interview skills, to training our upperclassmen Link Leaders who mentor our freshmen, to working with a student on strategies to manage their anxiety, to helping a student cope with a loss in their life, to assisting families in filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  I enjoy instilling in my students a passion for education and career possibilities. 

What do you think people misunderstand about the work being done with children age 0-5?

I think people sometimes underestimate the expertise, energy, and skill it requires to work with young children.  Having a young child of my own has given me even greater respect for early childhood educators and other parents.  Ascertaining children’s different backgrounds, needs, strengths, struggles etc. and educating them for future success is rewarding yet challenging work.  It is not easy, nor standardized.  It is not just about teaching them how to read/write/do math (although this is important too).  Historically, there was an expectation that stay-at-home parents took on the educational role for very young children.  For some, that is still a viable and valuable model.  For other parents/guardians who work substantial hours outside the home, this can be a difficult expectation to meet.  I think there needs to be a new synergy between home and early childhood education entities.  Establishing strong, trusting relationships between educators and families is key.     

How would you describe the most important work that needs to happen for young children?

I believe some of the most important work that needs to happen for young children is social in nature – fostering empathy for others, encouraging understanding of others’ concerns and experiences, emphasizing kindness and appreciation for our own strengths and those of others.  I also think sometimes it is easy to underestimate the capacity of young children.  Unless you work directly in that world, or are a parent/guardian of young children and witness their cleverness, joy and resilience in life, it’s easy to forget or miss just how remarkable they are.  I believe we need to design programs that match their capacity, creativity, and energy, and their natural desire and ability to learn, learn, learn!    

If you could change one social factor impacting families and young children what would it be and why?

Food insecurity and poverty.  Eat well, learn well, live well.  It is so important to provide proper nutrition at affordable prices – it is difficult for students to learn when basic needs are not met.  Ironically during the COVID crisis, the federal food programs seemed to make a real difference, but they are now fading back to an old normal, rather than a new normal.  

The work has many rewards-what are some of the challenges and how do you deal with them?

It can feel a bit overwhelming to learn about the many challenges and traumatic situations that some of our students face on a daily basis, and try to help solve problems that feel so big.  The change and healing process can feel slow at times.  I’ve always liked the quote from Mother Teresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”   There are so many positives and success stories, and I think it’s important to realize that although we may not be able to make a difference for every student at this moment in time, we can make a difference for some.  I feel so grateful to work with amazing colleagues and to have support from family and friends.  

What do you feel you personally get from working with families and children?

I cannot think of a more rewarding pursuit than partnering with students to help them develop their strengths and spark their curiosity.  I feel strongest when I am listening to and learning from others – which I get to do a lot in my role as a school counselor.  I also really enjoy facilitating mentoring-type relationships – whether that’s between adults in the community and high school students, between upperclassmen students and underclassmen students, or between high school students and elementary school students.  I believe that the more our young people learn about the past, think critically about the challenges we currently face, and get excited about the future, the stronger our community will be.  

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