Ms. Williams Reflects on Growing up in the Caribbean, Teen Mental Health, and Inclusion at School


Ms. Williams is a cheerful sight in the Museum School hallway (photo by Katlyn Martins).

Julia Hendler and Scarlett Kennedy

Ms. Williams, the guidance counselor to 9-11th grade students, has worked at the NYC Museum School for the past four years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Delaware State University and a Master’s in Education, with a concentration in school counseling from Hunter College. 

What does being a guidance counselor entail?

Nowadays, being a guidance counselor entails more than just academic counseling and talking about classes and future planning. The role has extended into other socioemotional support, including mental health support. I make referrals for students and support them here at school or connect them with other agencies or clinics. I do group counseling, one on one counseling, and all mandated counseling services. I like to consider myself an advocate for students outside the classroom.

Psychology is a science—were you interested in STEM in high school or college?

Absolutely not, and I joke with all the kids that I’m horrible at math, and that’s why I became a guidance counselor [as opposed to a research job]. In school, I gravitated towards humanities; my favorite subjects were literature, English, and history. Psychology is a mixture of some of those things. Some science is incorporated into it, but it’s a good mixture. While studying in college, I didn’t take many math or science classes. A lot of it was theoretical.

Do you have any advice for students who want to go into psychology?

If you decide to study psychology, know it’s a commitment, and you have to go all the way with your education. You have to love the job!

What’s the best part about the job?

There are a lot of really good parts! But the most fulfilling part for me is knowing that I played a role in shaping someone’s future. 

Well, you are such a light at Museum, and it’s clear that the students do adore you. 

One of my biggest daily goals is to get to talk with as many students as possible. I try to be visible and accessible to all students. Even though we have a small school, it is tough to connect with everyone because I work with 9th to 11th graders. I find myself double-booked a lot, but I always make the time.

Are you allowed to make appointments with 12th graders? Or is strictly 9-11?

Ms. Ortiz is the 12th-grade counselor and the college counselor, but because our school is so small and kids build relationships with me in the younger grades, I make time for seniors and anybody who wants an appointment! This current senior class started with me here at Museum, and they’ve come up with me—it’s really been a joy to see. 

Did you grow up in the city?

No, I am from the small island of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s where I grew up, and I did all my education up until college. I’ve lived in the city for 11 years at this point, and it has really felt like home. I’ve been able to still make connections with people who are from the Caribbean. My family still lives there [in Trinidad and Tobago], so I visit quite often.

Why New York?

Coming from a small island, New York is paradise. I love the diversity and the hustle of the city. Being from New York is like a way of life, an attitude. I really enjoy the fact that it’s always busy, there is always something to do.

What inspired you to become a guidance counselor?

Growing up in the Caribbean, there are no guidance counselors, and mental health is taboo. Growing up, I could’ve really used a guidance counselor. I was an only child and lived with my grandparents, and I really wish that I had some support or a person that I could go to. 

Truthfully, guidance counseling found me. I have always loved working with kids, but I never saw myself working in a school. I went to Hunter College in the city—originally for psychology. It wasn’t until the dean of the department told me that counseling was a better fit because psychology is very research based at the Master’s level. After doing school education internships and working with community-based organizations, I realized that I really love the work. It’s been very important to me throughout my career to be the counselor that I wish I had. 

What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self?

All of the emotions I felt as a teenager were valid, and it’s okay to ask for help and talk to someone. I dealt with a lot of my stuff on my own, and I admire the younger generation because you are all so vocal about needing help and so vulnerable with what you’re going through—something I definitely was not. Looking back, I would encourage myself to seek help and feel my emotions.

Why did you choose Museum? 

It was very similar to the school that I was at before. I did a year-long internship at the School of the Future. The Museum School is so similar in size, type of program, community, and diversity. I love exploring museums, and knowing that kids can do experimental learning is what drew me here. 

As a Black woman and advisor of the Black Student Union, do you feel any responsibility to students of color?

Absolutely, I do. I feel a huge responsibility to students of color at the Museum, and I think they see it that way as well. For some reason, they have always gravitated towards me. In the past, when I first got hired, there were probably four black teachers. A lot of the conversation surrounding educating black students and creating an environment where they feel comfortable in the classroom wasn’t really happening. 

The Black Student Union found me. It started during the pandemic after the death of George Floyd. I had a lot of students of color reach out to me about their feelings and how the trauma impacted their educational experience. I held a listening circle for students and staff, and it went really well. Mr. Lowy, the previous assistant principal, called me and asked me if I would consider creating a club or creating a space for students of color, and I was like, absolutely! The club has been around for three years now, and honestly, it would not be here if it weren’t for the kids; they are the driving force behind the club, and I’m just an advocate.

I’m also the student equity leader for district two, so I attend equity conferences with a couple of students of color. We talk about the Black experience at school and how we can continue to make spaces for diversity and inclusion. 

What are your favorite things to do outside of school?

I like museums, especially the Brooklyn Museum. Just like kids, I like to hang out with my friends, listen to music, travel, and spend time alone. Talking all day and being around people all day is a lot and so I’m into self-care and being introspective. I live by Central Park, so I take walks in the park and sightseeing. I am a foodie too! I like to try new restaurants.

Lastly, if you weren’t a guidance counselor, what do you think you would be doing?

I don’t know, this might sound really cheesy, but there is nothing else I could really see myself doing. I would definitely be working with kids in some capacity if I wasn’t a guidance counselor.