Take just one look at Mary Abbott, CEC Counselor, and you can tell that she is a ray of light shining on our school. Her enthusiasm for her job escapes from every pore in her body and to spend just a few minutes with her one can’t help but notice that this woman is right where she belongs. “I love what I do,” she said. “I have the best job in the world.”
Although her original intention out of college was to be an FBI agent, we are fortunate that the twists and turns in her life landed her here at CEC. If ever there was a champion for our students, she is it and though it wasn’t her original path, her life experiences gave her the background and inspiration to become a high school counselor.
Abbot was born in Dallas, Tex., but moved to Colorado when she was five. She attended high school in the Littleton Public Schools. As a 16-year-old, her father passed away, and left a weight on her shoulders, which, fortunately was made lighter for her by a caring high school counselor. She had stopped going to school regularly and had become disengaged at the time, but Mr. Zerr, her counselor wasn’t going to let her throw in the towel. “He saved my life,” she credits him. “He was always there for me. I never asked him to be, I never told him my story, but he found out. And after that, he was always around.” Mary spent hours in his office. “He didn’t say anything, he just let me cry. And once I was better, off to class I went.”
We learn from our role models and perhaps from this one, Mary learned the compassion she shows to her students to this day. Working with high school juniors and seniors can be a delicate balance as they imagine their futures and work their way toward independence. She helps students in many different areas of their development from academics to social behavior and career—believing strongly in the CEC motto—Do Something Real. “I want to make sure that the classes they choose or the things they do are real to them. And it’s very individual. That’s why when I’m doing the scheduling for the seniors, it’s a one-on-one conversation.”
Because of this approach, the students respond well to Mary as she helps steer them toward their goals. In addition, her philosophy is based on helping them figure out how to help themselves and never stop learning, no matter which path they take. “I always tell them, when we talk you’re going to hear me say college a lot, and when you hear me say college, I want you to think four different things. I want you to think four-year school, two-year school, trade or tech and I want you to think military.” Seeing students as individuals has helped her, help students to succeed. “It’s not just this conveyor belt of students that we’re sending along,” she said. “Everyone has their own path.” If nothing else, Ms. Abbott wants them to understand this.
“I wish I had a school like CEC when I was in high school, because I knew what I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t know what I did want to do, and I think if I had some more career guidance or the ability to explore some more I would have gone a different direction.”
But there is something to be said about the paths we take, even if they don’t follow a straight line. Mary attended the University of Hartford in Connecticut and loved the East Coast, but after graduation, moved home to care for her mother who was terminally ill with cancer. Following her mother’s death, Mary, who had majored in psychology and criminal justice, got a job clerking at the Arapahoe District Court, the 18th judicial district. And after two years moved on to be a legal assistant for the DA’s office. And it wasn’t until spending time in that job that she realized that it wasn’t her calling, or her passion. “I kept seeing the bad side of things.” As she researched new careers she began looking into counseling, originally to work in a juvenile diversion program. But, on further examination of that field, she found something that truly called to her—a masters in school counseling, and it all clicked. “You know how in cheesy movies when the clouds part and the ray of sun comes down? That’s how I felt. And I said, this is what I am meant to do.” She completed her degree, interned with none other than Mr. Zerr, her high school counselor and began working in DPS.
Now when she’s working with high school seniors, she knows that life doesn’t always go the way we expect it to. “I have my students develop a plan A, B and C. Because what I find is that when students graduate from here, if their first plan doesn’t work, they’re lost and they don’t know what to do.” She continues to review the plans with her students and alter them accordingly. She knows that life does throw curve balls. It’s thrown her curve balls and she knows it will happen to her students too. The difference is how one handles it. “I teach students to be self advocates, where to find resources, how to do things and that’s really what I try to teach them their senior year. I want them to learn to find answers on their own.”
By doing this, she is giving CEC students the foundation for success despite any odds they may face.
“My motto is this,” she said, “Life is not always about how fast you can run or how high you can jump. It’s about how high you can bounce.”
And if the spring in her step is any indication of the inspiration she has passed on to those she works with, this ray of light will help CEC students shine.