Betsy Barry was the first of her kind in the College Counseling Office, taking the position of Office Manager in 2005 — a role that had never before been established at Western Reserve Academy.
As a team member, Barry enhanced and finessed the office's organization and efficiency, all while cementing the office's personable reputation. In the role, she was instrumental to the process of streamlining the college application process to a digital format and utilizing Naviance to WRA's full advantage. These days, she is also responsible for managing the College Counseling portal and runs the College Counseling social media channels. But perhaps most importantly, each year, WRA's senior class puts their fate in her capable hands as she supports them through the college application process, from scheduling college admission representative visits to coordinating the submission of transcripts to colleges.
She and her husband, Tom Barry, are campus fixtures. Outside of the John D. Ong Library, Barry has served dorm duty for Hobart House and is serving this year for Seymour House, and Tom coached girls basketball for many years and continues to announce home football games. Last year, he even hosted a French Cheese Tasting for Madame Borrmann's CL French Language and Culture class. The Barrys often raise their hands to volunteer their time to Reserve, such as accompanying a small cadre of students on a holiday service trip to Case Barlow Farm. Most notably, they are proud parents of alumna Hannah '10. Watching her flourish as a student at Reserve and gain confidence and sense of character was a deeply moving experience for the Barrys. The affection and gratitude they feel toward Reserve is profound, and this is something Barry carries with her when she comes into work every day.
As the first face you see when you step foot into the office, she is an expert on handling all manner of visitors. She is a welcoming concierge to the touring prospective family, an enthusiastic champion for the victorious senior, a consoling guardian for someone who has received disappointing news. On many days, she is a problem solver (or hero) for the frantic individual seeking help submitting important documentation to their school of choice.
"You'll see a student come in stressed out because they've received word from their college that they don't have their transcript or they don't have this part of my application," she described. "And I'll just say, 'Okay. Let's call them and find out what's going on.' And nine times out of ten, it's a 30-second fix."
It's not hard to imagine being in that student's shoes and the palpable wash of relief they must feel at Barry's quick and steady reassurance. She knows these seemingly inconsequential moments mean a great deal to students and reinforce how meaningful this work is and why she is so proud to do it.
"It's really nice to play a role in this important process," she shared. "Especially when you do this work with kids who, you can tell, just need a bit more attention in this process. I don't lose sight that many of our students are far away from their parents, and it's only natural that they're looking for extra help or just someone to talk to about such a big decision."
The College Counseling Office, as a whole, excels in knowing the WRA students fully and holistically. They serve as advisors, they take on dorm duty, they volunteer for service opportunities and attend games, concerts, performances and more. In this way, no student walking into the office is a stranger.
"Making these connections with kids early on is such a help," Barry shared. "I think it does a lot to ease any fears or nerves they have about the college process, because they know us and they know they're welcome. It's one of the things I really appreciate about dorm duty. It definitely makes my job easier to get to know the kids so well."
Now halfway through November, we are in the midst of the College Counseling Office's busiest season as they prepare seniors for upcoming admission deadlines. And though they are busy keeping more than a hundred seniors on task, the team makes a point to often express gratitude to the entire WRA community. Prior to this interview, Barry was prepping thank-you bags to share with the faculty members for the herculean effort that is writing recommendation letters. She also shared that as decisions start to come in, they will revive the colorful bulletin board with the college logos.
It's the seemingly small things like this (and the big things, like celebrating College Decision Day with a cupcake party for the whole senior class) that make WRA's College Counseling Office such a standout. And at the heart of every excellent department is someone like Barry, who supports her team and keeps everything running smoothly. To her, it's an honor to be a part of this process and to be recognized as the recipient of the Leonard S. Carlson award.
"I was totally shocked when [Head of School Suzanne Buck] made the announcement," she shared. "And it means the world to me. I take a lot of pride in the work that we do here at Reserve, and I really believe in this place and what we offer. I'm so grateful for what this school did for my daughter, and I always want to make sure I'm doing my best work and that I'm modeling that same behavior of excellence, integrity and compassion that we instill in our students every year. It's a wonderful place to be."