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Cindy Quade has spent decades working as a school counselor in southeastern Montana.

She worked for 24 years in Ekalaka and another 15 years in Baker.

She will be retiring at the end of the school year from the Baker School District.

That not only means an end to years of commuting from her home in Ekalaka, it also means that her final semester at Baker School is the one which has totally changed from the way she imagined it would be – thanks to a pandemic and the closure of the school to students.

The graduate of Black Hills State University in South Dakota also has a masters in school counseling from Montana State University (Bozeman).

She grew up in Lead, just a short distance from the Black Hills State campus where she got her music degree.

“I was with Ekalaka Public Schools,” she explained, noting that it was marriage which brought her back from a job in Worland, WY to the southeastern corner of Montana. “I taught in Ekalaka for two years, then went to Worland (in northwestern Wyoming near Bighorn National Forest).

But it was a job opportunity which would bring her to Baker. “It was an opportunity to do full-time school counseling.”

Still living in Ekalaka, she said she didn’t mind the commute. “There were a few nasty weather days and bad road days every year, but they just amounted to a handful. I did not mind the commute one bit.”

The pandemic and school closures has made it interesting to be a school counselor this spring, she explained. “It is challenging... interesting. It is not easy, but so far the work and communication between the staff and the students and the parents seems to be going pretty smoothly for us.”

“My biggest challenge is that every spring I build and work on next year’s class schedule for the high school and middle school (students),” she said. “So the biggest challenge will be for all students to get their classes chosen for next year.

“We are probably going to have to do that all online,” she added. “I’ll be contacting them with emails and phone calls.

When it comes to the impact COVID-19 and school closures have had on her final semester at Baker, she admits that it has been a large one. “It is definitely not how we planned it. I do a lot of accompanying for the music department and with the cancellation of the music festivals we are sadly missing all of that. We are also missing all of our spring sports, the spring prom … it is pretty disappointing for the students,” she said.

Great staff, students

Quade said that she was happy to have worked with a great staff and great students in Baker. “Watching the graduates go on and become successful adults in their chosen careers,” she said has been one of the pleasures she has had.

She had been doing work for K-12 students in Ekalaka and Baker before switching to handling the 7-12 students, Quade explained.

She said she got to see some of the older students return as parents for young students coming through. “A lot of the kids that graduated when I first started here have younger students in the district now, but I don’t get to see them often (as a counselor) because they attend elementary school.” Quade made the transition from being a K-12 counselor to the junior and senior high level about five years ago when the district created two counseling positions.

Quade’s husband, Mike, works for Summit National Bank. Her daughter, Kirsten lives in Billings while another daughter, Emilie and her husband Erik, live in Missoula. Both have followed in the family businesses, with Kirsten working in pre-school daycare and Emilie works for the Bank of Montana.

Looking ahead, she said that when she finally retires, she hopes to focus on her hobbies along with her friends and family.

“We will enjoy traveling, but not until the social distancing is lifted,” she explained.

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