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While her career as a guidance counselor keeps Abby DeTour in a high school all day, she’s still game to help out at her daughters’ alma mater, Valley Regional High School, for the spring musical. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Abby DeTour graduated from high school some three decades ago, but she has not left, either professionally or personally. Abby is the guidance director, working with high school students, in North Branford. And though her twin daughters graduated from Valley Regional High School two years ago, Abby, who lives in Ivoryton, is still volunteering for the school’s annual spring musical.
This year the show is Matilda, the musical version of which opened first in England in 2010 and on Broadway in 2013. The show won theatrical awards in Great Britain and four Tonys for the American production. The novel on which it is based, Matilda by Road Dahl, was first made as a movie, but not a musical in 1996. Valley Regional’s production will take place Friday to Sunday, March 13 through 15 at the high school.
Matilda is the story of a five year old with psychic powers, who untangles a problem confounding her teacher, foils a cruel headmistress, and puts to right injustice in her school and beyond.
“Matilda is a wondrous script. It offers creativity and truth through a child’s eyes,” says longtime Spring Musical Director Ingrid Walsh.
Abby is working on scenery.
“I really enjoy it enormously,” she says. “Set painting, molding Styrofoam, and decoupage, which is a new skill.”
And, she adds, that now that both daughters, Alex and Izzy, are in their sophomore years of college, there is less activity to keep her and busy at home.
Abby started volunteering for the play when Alex and Izzy, still in high school, were also involved. In fact, she checked with them before she volunteered.
“I didn’t want them to think I was shadowing them,” she recalls.
One of the things Abby likes about working on scenery is that she gets to see the final product. In her work as a guidance counselor, she helps students to determine the next step in their lives, but doesn’t always get to see how that step ultimately turns out. That has not dimmed her enthusiasm for guidance work.
“I love what I do,” she says.
According to Abby, when she goes to high school graduation, she has something very specific in mind. As each student walks across the stage, she wants to know that the graduate has a blueprint for what will come next, four-year college, community college, enlistment in the military, a job or job training.
“I like every single one to have a plan,” she says.
Abby got insight not only as a guidance counselor but as a parent when her own daughters were applying to college. She learned firsthand about the tension students feel as they go through the application process.
“I was not unaware of the stress, but I had no idea of the level,” she admits. “I think I am able to provide more support for parents now.”
She also has a bit of advice for well-meaning parents who want to help their children in the college process. Mothers and fathers should not be the ones emailing colleges or calling to set up appointments and tours.
“The student has to demonstrate interest, make the calls, send the emails, write a note to the interviewer. If the parents do all that, someone will question whether the student is really ready for college,” she says.
Abby, who grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, majored in psychology and sociology at American University in Washington, D.C., and earned both a master’s degree and a sixth year certificate from Central Connecticut State University.
North Branford, where she has been for 22 years, is the only school system in which she has ever worked. Now, she is seeing the children of students she had at the beginning of her career. In addition to her responsibilities in guidance, she is also the faculty advisor for the National Honor Society.
In addition to her job and volunteering for the play, on weekends Abby is at the hostess desk of the restaurant she and her husband own, the Red House in Deep River. Her husband, Marc, is at the restaurant full time.
It’s not the first time the couple has owned a restaurant. At one time, they owned one in Middletown.
The restaurant isn’t the only other demand on Abby’s time. She works out or takes exercise classes five times a week and has competed in both triathlons and cross-fit competitions. The first triathlon, in 2012, was done on a whim when a friend suggested it might be fun. Abby trained but was nonetheless a bit overwhelmed by the open water swim, which is the first of the three triathlon events.
“I stood on the edge of Long Island sound and looked at the buoy we had to swim to and thought this was insane,” she recalls.
Still, she finished the half-mile swim, the 13-mile bike ride, and the three-mile run.
“And I wasn’t last,” she adds.
The swim, according to Abby, is the most difficult of the events.
“You’re in open water with hands and feet hitting your face and grabbing your foot. It’s a little scary,” she says.
These days, Abby prefers doing CrossFit contests, which combine patterned repetitions of different drills with aerobic intervals. Just two months ago, Abby and her partner Todd Moss came in first in the Master’s Division of a CrossFit competition. Some competitions, Abby explains, are mixed; some single-sex. The most recent one included 100 pushups, 200 pull-ups, and 300 squats interspersed with cardio exercise.
Abby admits it is a challenge to fit everything into her schedule.
“It’s like putting pieces together in a puzzle,” she says
She knows where that puzzle will place her on the weekend of March 13 to the 15.
“I’m going to be at the play. I will do anything they ask me—except put makeup on people,” she says. “I don’t do that well because I don’t wear any myself.”
The Valley Regional Spring Musical Matilda runs Friday, March 13 at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 at 1 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, March 15 at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at Valley Regional High School, 256 Kelsey Hill Road, Deep River; Celebrations in Deep River; and Toys Ahoy! in Essex.
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