Please join us in welcoming Deb Russ to Willow as our School Counselor! In this role, Deb will be a great resource for students, teachers, and parents as we work as a team to support our students’ social-emotional development and enhance our nurturing learning environment. Deb is a Licensed School Counselor and Social Worker with over two decades of experience in the field, including previous partnerships with private schools. Deb earned her Bachelor’s Degree of Social Work from Marist College and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Marywood University. Deb is also the mother of two Willow alumni, Collin (Class of 2023) and Griffin (Class of 2018). Deb has already turned her office into a cozy, comforting space that our students and staff love to visit, and we are looking forward to all that Deb will bring to Willow!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your role at Willow?
I’m here primarily to help students navigate the social and emotional aspects of their school day and lives so that they can better focus on learning. That could look like meeting with a group of students that had a disagreement at recess to help them address that conflict, coaching a student through a challenge time, or working with a teacher to implement a learning plan for a student or navigate classroom dynamics. I’m here to listen, to offer tools and strategies to students and teachers, to advocate for the students’ needs, and to help coordinate with external support systems and specialists as needed. I’ll also be helping with social-emotional learning training for teachers, supporting our middle school advisory program, and offering regular one-on-one student sessions if parents and students want that level of support. I’ll also be offering optional weekly group sessions for middle schoolers that focus on topics like self-esteem, conflict resolution, listening skills, social skills, and more. My door is always open to students, teachers, and parents too!
What first interested you in social work and becoming a counselor? Why did you want to work in a school setting?
At first I didn’t want to be a social worker, I wanted to be a teacher, but my college counselor actually steered me in the Social Work direction. I was most passionate about helping people and really teaching social-emotional skills to children and parents. I think I was most interested in child development and mental health, getting to know the students and understanding where they’re coming from, what they need, and how to help. I wanted to do this work in a school because I think teachers are too often asked to not only teach but also act as a counselor and sometimes help with mental health or social issues that are really challenging, and that can be overwhelming. I want to help provide that support and partnership so that teachers can focus on teaching and have the tools that they need to coach students throughout the day. I want to help create a supportive learning environment where all students can really thrive.
What first drew you to The Willow School, both as an alumni parent and someone with this eye for social-emotional learning?
I found Willow when I was working for Fusion Academy; we connected as part of my outreach for Fusion. When I found Willow, I was in the process of realizing how big of an impact a school environment has on its students. I wanted my daughter to be in an environment where she could thrive and be loved and be taught with kindness and patience. Willow had that kind of environment, plus the students had so much time to connect with nature, which I think is super important for grounding, growing, and learning. My daughter started Willow in middle school and it’s amazing how much confidence she gained here and how much she learned about being kind to others here through the friends she made and the Willow virtues and advisory program. My son, who was crying every day at his previous school, fell in love with school when he started going to Willow. At his old school, he thought he didn’t like reading because he wasn’t interested in the books they had in the very set curriculum, and then he came here and his teacher was giving him the option to choose his books…he started reading for fun. When he got older, he was inspired by Ms. Miles to overcome some of his fears and pursue his love for music; now he’s joining choir in high school. It was a transformative experience for both of my children.
Why do you think that a nurturing school environment is especially important for middle school students?
Middle school can be really tough; there is so much going on developmentally and socially. I think it’s so important that children that age are in an environment where they are a little bit more protected, cared for, and known. At Willow, we’re helping them build their self esteem, allowing them to have creativity, and teaching them how to work through conflict through the advisory program. It really does take a village to raise children, and here, these students have positive, caring adults to look up to and help guide them as they become more independent.
What are you most excited about when it comes to joining Willow?
I’m really excited to meet this whole new community of younger students, now that my children have graduated. I’m excited to watch them grow and to be a part of the Willow family that’s helping to raise them in a healthy learning environment.
Interested in learning more about Willow ? Attend one of our October Open Houses or start a conversation with our enrollment team. Applications for the 2024-25 school year are due on February 1, and Willow accepts mid-year transfers for select grades.