When school opens next September, things will be different in Room 332. Betsy Galeota will not be setting up the Career Center at West Potomac. Instead, she will be joining other retired teachers who meet for breakfast the first day of school.
This will be the first year since West Potomac opened that freshmen students will not be introduced to Betsy Galeota; returning students will no longer have her as a source of knowledge.
“I have always said that you will know when it is time,” said Galeota, who is retiring from West Potomac after working for 20 years as a career resource specialist. “I had a push from my children to retire.”
Galeota has two sons — David, married to Katie, with children Leo, Gabriel and Vincent; and Jay, married to Kim, with children Jake, Abigail and Benjamin. She’s hoping to spend more time with her grandchildren.
“I would like to do some volunteer work. And I will be back here to administer the SAT tests,” she said.
GALEOTA WAS ONE of the FPCS employees who started working at the school when it opened its doors in 1985; only a handful of teachers and administrative personnel remain from that time.
“My memories go all the way back to the fun we had when choosing the name, mascot and colors for our new school. The first day of school at West Potomac will always be one to remember. Of course, I will never forget the day the huge flatbed truck delivered 'The Rock' and how many messages have been painted on that rock since then,” Galeota said.
She can count herself the recipient of one of those messages; last week the Student Government Association (SGA) painted “Betsy Galeota 1985-2005” and drew hearts on either side.
“That touched me so deeply that I was thought so much of. I can’t find words to say how much it meant to me,” she said.
Galeota also meant something to The Colonial Singers who stopped by her room last week to sing “Danny Boy” and another tune to bid Galeota farewell. One of the students had tears in her eyes as she sang the songs, led by Ernest Johnson.
“Betsy has been a dear friend and colleague — an advisor for me for many years,” said Ernest Johnson, music director at West Potomac. “She is one of the finest people I have every worked with.”
Last week, the West Potomac faculty held a going-away party for her with friends and family. Joann Murphy, guidance counselor, worked with Galeota at West Potomac for years, and said, “What can I say about Betsy Galeota? She is the type of person who makes you feel welcome from the very first minute you meet her. She is always there to help others. When I think of Betsy, I think of her Bostonian accent coming out every once in a while and then her smile with such laughter. We have laughed about a lot of things over the years and the memories continue to make me just shake my head and chuckle. She is truly a friend and I wish her the best on her retirement.”
GALEOTA HAS SEEN many changes over the years, and she shared some of her thoughts on those changes; she said colleges are much more competitive.
“Colleges are raising their GPA and SAT scores that they require. So many students are applying for college,” she said. “All the colleges are competitive. There was a time when we could go down the list and say who would get in which schools. Now there are a lot more surprises. You can’t get a profile on why students get accepted.”
That is why she meets with students every year, beginning when they’re freshmen. She explains what they need to do to get into the college of their choice — be active in sports and clubs, do volunteer work, work part-time, and get good grades.
“They need to start thinking about college in the 9th grade. As they go on their journey, they need to zero in,” said Galeota. She likes to tell students that high school is like a building block — ninth grade is the foundation, 10th grade is the first floor, 11th the second floor and senior year the roof. If you don’t have a strong foundation, the roof will crumble when you put it on.”
Having said that, however, she also said, “There’s a college for everybody. “If you don’t get into your first choice, the door is not closed. You can go to another school and then try to transfer the next year.”
HELPING STUDENTS get the aid they need is something that Galeota has spent hours on over the years — finding those obscure offers that most students aren’t aware of. She also focuses not only on students applying for four-year schools, but also those going to two-year institutions, trade school and those seeking employment or military service.
“We meet the needs of every single student,” Galeota said.
She has seen the number of students going to four-year schools decline over the years. The percentage for students going to four-year colleges from Fort Hunt High School prior to 1985 was 93 percent. The percentage this year and last are 65 percent going to four-year schools and 20 percent going to two-year institutions.
“We have diversified a great deal. Many students are the first in their families to graduate from high school. We need to educate them about the value of higher education,” Galeota said.
What does Galeota think is required for this job? “I recommend that you have a lot of energy and a passion for helping.”
Galeota will miss the people whom she has worked with over the years, and of course she will miss the students.
“I love the thrill of it all when students come in to say that they’ve got into such and such a school,” Galeota said. “You really get to know the kids — there are some really neat kids at this school. I see good things happening.”
What she won’t miss is getting up every morning at 5 a.m.
“It’s a challenging job, but I love it,” Galeota said. “In my recent years, I have wonderful memories of kids coming in to share where they were accepted to college and what scholarships they had received. But most of all, I will always cherish the memories I have of all the wonderful students and faculty members that I have had the privilege of getting to know over the last 20 years. I leave with the memory that West Potomac High School was a wonderful place to spend 20 years of my life.”