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Elder retires with warm memories of HHS

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

Cheryl Elder

Cheryl Elder, shown with her husband, Tom, has retired after 25 years as a guidance counselor in Hopkinton.

Although she will miss working with Hopkinton High School students, their families and her colleagues, retiring guidance counselor Cheryl Elder is excited about moving on and enjoying a home on Cape Cod and “creating nice memories.”

Elder, who began working in Hopkinton as a special education teacher in 1987 and as a school counselor in 1998, grew up in Andover and considered nursing and teaching as career options. She studied elementary and special education at Westfield State College and earlier held learning specialist positions at Franklin High School and in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

For a while, Elder stayed home to help raise her three children. She went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling from Boston College during the mid-1990s.

Having moved to Hopkinton, Elder seized the opportunity to work in the community where two of her sons were attending school. She had the chance to see her middle son and his friends “on the job” while they were at HHS, and the same situation held true with her youngest son.

“It was really nice. I got to know the kids well and feel fortunate to have had the experience working with the administrators that I did,” Elder said. “Living in Hopkinton, I fell in love with the community and the people. … I keep in touch with former students and, in some cases, have had their kids come to me as well.”

She praised school administrators from when she started in 1987 — superintendent William Hosmer, principal Tom Lane, assistant principal Joe Barnes and special education director Wahib Saliba — as well as Jack Phelan, who served as superintendent when Elder transitioned from being a counselor at the middle school to her position at the high school.

She also expressed gratitude for the support she received from current principal Evan Bishop, assistant principals Justin Pominville and Laura Theis, and counseling coordinator Adelaide (Lee) Greco.

“I am so fortunate to have worked with such a dedicated, warm and exceptional group of leaders and educators,” Elder shared. “And I am so grateful to have worked alongside colleagues who I consider my best friends, and to have gotten to know the countless wonderful students and families I have worked with through the years.”

The job of a school counselor, Elder explained, is multifaceted and encompasses responsibilities ranging from helping students choose colleges and write essays to dealing with mental health crises that sometimes require outside referrals for treatment.

“We wear many hats,” Elder said. “I always try to keep my door open so the students can come in with whatever is on their minds.”

Typical high school problems involve worry over a grade, issues at home or breakups with significant others.

Elder noted she feels it is difficult for teenagers to handle the amount of pressure they feel to succeed and get top grades.

“It’s cool to do well, and they want to get into the best colleges, but it takes a lot to excel at that level,” Elder said. “I try to emphasize it is better to have a balance in life and do things they love to do and not just focus on the end goal.”

The most challenging part of a counselor’s job is working with kids having a mental health crisis and trying to help them work through their struggles to get the support they need, Elder said.

The remote period during COVID-19 starting in March 2020 meant that Elder conducted her work via Zoom and phone calls. She also kept a detailed notebook, logging everything she and the students were doing.

“Through Zoom, I was able to meet new families and still counsel kids. But I worried if they were getting out enough and about how they were coping,” Elder said.

The positive side of that stressful time, Elder said, was that students were able to “take a step back and breathe a bit.” They also learned how to get along with siblings, engage in enrichment activities and spend more time with family.

Post-COVID, she noticed a difference in the school atmosphere. “It was so, so quiet in the building — not a peep. It was difficult for new kids to make friends with desks far apart and not being able to eat lunch together,” Elder said.

She said freshmen particularly appeared to struggle with socialization skills and learning class expectations during the first year back.

“It was a tough transition to get back on track…The social/emotional [aspect] was certainly impacted,” Elder said, adding that this past school year saw conditions improve and things get back closer to normal.

Elder said she had been thinking about retiring for a while. She said her husband, who retired seven years ago, has been doing a great job shopping for groceries and cooking while she worked. They also have four grandchildren now and are building a home on Cape Cod.

“I love the water. The kids love the beach. Cape Cod is my happy place,” Elder said.

But her departure from HHS still is bittersweet.

“I’m going to miss the people and day-to-day interactions,” Elder said. “Also, I have the best view from my office — watching the change of seasons.”

She described HHS as a “warm, supportive place to be,” noting that during the accreditation process, administrators have heard from people coming in, “It’s like someone sprinkled pixie dust here.” It is an assessment with which Elder agrees.

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Other Hopkinton Public Schools staff members who retired at the end of the school year (and agreed to share this information) include HHS math teacher David Buffum, HMS guidance counselor Bill Meehan, HMS math teacher Ann Marie Lockwood, Elmwood School special education paraprofessional Fran Levergood, Marathon School guidance counselor Kelly Pickens and district-wide ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) teacher Suzanne Strefling.

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