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Somerset Elementary counselor plans retirement

Maralee Savage found a home when she stepped into the counseling position at the Somerset Elementary School.

After 15 years in the role, Savage will be retiring at the end of the school year.

Savage taught in four different states before moving to Wisconsin. Her former husband was in the military during the Vietnam War, so their family moved frequently.

They eventually settled in River Falls. Savage taught there and spent five years as the owner/manager of a bookstore.

When she was hired in Somerset, she shared space with middle school counselor Jo Pierce in the old elementary school building. Pierce moved to the middle school when the new high school was built.

When Savage began in the district, there were fewer than 400 students at the elementary level. When that number grew above 500, Penny Deakin was brought in as a part-time second counselor. The number of students in the elementary school has now grown to more than 700.

The responsibilities of a counselor at the elementary level are widely varied. Savage said there are four categories of developmental guidance used at the elementary school. They are individual counseling, small group counseling, classroom presentations and parent and staff education.

The counselors do a number of classroom presentations each week. Savage said this is done to help students learn to make good choices at an early age. Basic concepts like making friends, self control and personal boundaries are taught.

"Social skills often have to be taught," Savage said.

Responsive services are where the counselors spend a large part of their time. Savage said this includes when a teacher, administrator or parent refers a student for individual counseling.

An area of growth in elementary counseling is information that can be offered to parents. Savage has a "family corner" in her office, which has a wide range of materials that are available to parents.

"Raising a child is probably the most difficult job any of us will ever have," Savage said. "Sometimes it's helpful to have some advice or assistance with it."

Savage said she will miss the students and staff at the elementary school, but said she's ready to redirect her energies to the next part of her life. She plans to work in non-profit ventures like a free clinic and "Grow To Share," a community garden in River Falls.

She also plans to travel. Her son lives in New Orleans and her daughter lives in the Virgin Islands.