Trumansburg Elementary School Counselor Chris Harding-Grosfelt will be retiring in June after 34 years in the district. She grew up in Chicago and, after college, taught Special Education there for a few years.
Harding-Grosfelt came to this area because her sister lived in Waterloo, was going through a divorce, and wanted to start a business, so Harding-Grosfelt moved to New York to support her and help with her children. She began subbing in South Seneca, Waterloo, and Seneca Falls before getting a job in South Seneca as a primary grade Special Education teacher. She had to get her masters degree to become certified in New York and, after attending a professional development conference, chose counseling as her course of study. After graduating from SUNY Oswego, Harding-Grosfelt worked at Fingerlakes BOCES for a year split among K-8 Border City Schools, Marion Central School, and Newark Alternate High School. Next, Harding-Grosfelt was hired by Trumansburg as the first ever middle school counselor. She has worked in all three buildings during her career, including twice in the middle school.
While counseling in the middle school, Principal Chuck Wiltse encouraged Harding-Grosfelt to get her Administrative Degree. She succeeded, but after her son, Ian, was born, she had no desire to become a principal. Instead, she used the knowledge to see the big picture of the schools for the benefit of her students. She has always been a counselor at Trumansburg. Each building had its own challenges and she had to adjust to the different levels of the students.
“I have served under eight different administrators and that is not counting the different superintendents and Deans of Students I have had to work with,” Harding-Grosfelt recounted.
One of Harding-Grosfelt’s favorite things has been to visit classrooms to conduct social-emotional lessons. It was somewhat harder to do at the high school level, but not impossible. In the middle and elementary schools, Harding-Grosfelt enjoyed facilitating small groups such as Banana Splits, Anger Management, and My Desk is a Mess…I Need Help.
She has a variety of topics that she enjoys working with in the elementary school. In third grade, kids learn how to be in a group. “That sounds kind of odd,” said Harding-Grosfelt, “but kids don’t always know how to communicate well and get feedback.”
Second graders talk about Mindfulness such as being present in the moment, breathing techniques, and calming themselves down. Kindergarten and first graders discuss feelings. Fourth graders talk about career exploration and starting to know about themselves as individual students.
Harding-Grosfelt is looking forward to retirement so she can try new things and have different adventures. She likes to walk and knit. Hats are a favorite thing to make. She wants to travel more, especially on days not limited by the school schedule. She and her husband, Joe, traveled to Switzerland on their honeymoon and walked some of the many trails. She would like to go back to finish all of the trails. A river cruise on the Danube or Rhine is also appealing. Harding-Grosfelt and her husband also visited Ian in Senegal a few years ago where he was serving in the Peace Corp. “We were there for 12 days and the taxis were crazy. We were able to meet all of the people in Ian’s village. It was a pretty amazing experience,” she smiled.
“I will miss the kids the most because they are just fun,” Harding-Grosfelt mentioned. “The first year I came to the elementary school, I was asked if I was the new health teacher because I came into the classrooms often to talk about health topics.”
Her job really hasn’t changed much over the years, but Harding-Grosfelt did have to adapt to being a counselor in all 3 buildings. Her job was still to help the kids feel good about themselves and take charge of their own learning. There are more standards to cover now that the state has put them into place. Along the way, NY finally decided that elementary school counselors, although not mandated, were necessary. “It has been fabulous to interact with elementary school parents and students,” remarked Harding-Grosfelt.
She will meet students in small groups or individually if they have been referred by parents or teachers. Recently, she met with a group of elementary students and they made Kind Cards where the kids wrote messages like “Tell something not funny.” or “Say something nice.” Then, as a group, they decide whether the statement is kind or not and why.
On the wall in her room is a large spectacular mural painted by former student Claire Melvin. It shows a tree, fully leafed, and the words “Accept Yourself and Others. Be Safe. Care for Your Community. Do Your Best.” These messages are the elementary school’s ABCs of conduct and a constant reminder to be nice and think of others.
“I won’t miss the structure of the day because I have to meet students working around lunch, ELA or math classes, and specials. The best time for me to see student is during their study skills time and that can sometimes be difficult. Some of the kids like to eat lunch with me and we just talk. It’s just a social time, but I never take kids out of recess,” Harding-Grosfelt explained.
Harding-Grosfelt continued, “I always tried to listen to students and encourage them to be the best they could be and look for their potential. I have gotten to know a lot of families along the way which is very nice.”