By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Since January, a new friendly face has been greeting students in the main office of Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School. Abby Villeneuve is the newest addition to the Big Sky School District staff, serving as the middle school and high school counselor.

Originally from southern California, Villeneuve is currently pursuing her master’s in education for school counseling from Montana State University, after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Idaho. She plans to graduate from the master’s program in May.

“I like to live in new places and experience new places,” Villeneuve said of her decision to come to Montana, adding that she also loves the outdoors.

As the school counselor, Villeneuve meets with students as needed in one-on-one visits. Currently, she is teaching a seventh-grade character education class, where students are learning important life skills like organization, time management, conflict resolution and coping strategies. She is also pursuing certification to be the testing coordinator for standardized tests like the PSAT and ACT.

Villeneuve said she is excited to be a part of the district and work in a small school setting, saying the students all have great relationships and have been going to school together for most of their lives.

“Everyone has been very welcoming,” she added. “The staff is very friendly and supports each other in a lot of ways.”

Villeneuve’s mother was a social worker and her father was a police officer, “so public service is in our family nature,” she said. “I’ve just always wanted to be that person for kids who don’t have that support in their life. Some kids don’t have an adult supporter anywhere else in their lives. … It’s really easy to come to school and focus on academics, but I think it’s important to look at the student as a whole.”

Villeneuve said she hopes to diminish counseling stereotypes and beliefs that suggest asking for help makes a person inferior, or that you have to be strong enough to do things by yourself. “I hope that I can normalize the experience that everyone struggles and that there’s a person in the school that cares,” she said.