Deb Barlow Graduating with the Class of 2022


Molly Moriarty, PaperClip Staff/ Writer

22 years ago, Deb Barlow received a call from Portsmouth High School offering her an interim position as a special education counselor. Fresh out of college with a master’s degree in social work, she happily accepted. 

At the end of the 2000-2001 school year, staff and students had grown such a strong liking for Barlow that the administration asked her to stay; ever since she has been working to make a difference in her students’ lives.

When asked how she would describe her job, Barlow said, “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.” Barlow’s role includes problem-solving, providing resources, connecting with teachers, and motivating her students. 

Barlow explained, “I try to focus on academics, but at the same time, I try to build a community, make sure people have what they need and that they have a safe space here with me.” She uses this strategy because most of the kids Barlow works with were placed in her class for reasons other than academic struggles, such as learning disabilities or mental health issues.

Brady Mueller, a sophomore at PHS, has known Barlow for the past year and describes her as an upbeat and helpful person who has helped him “get more work done and stay less stressed out about my schedule.” 

Mueller expressed the importance of Barlow’s position by saying, “Without her being here there’d be a lot of kids who wouldn’t have the level of guidance that they need.”

Over the years, Barlow has worked with and helped many students, and when asked if she feels she has made an impact on them, she responded by saying, “I hope so. I think I’ve made a positive impact on quite a few- you can’t reach everyone though.” Her favorite part of working at PHS has been connecting with her students and learning new things from them which she says has kept her more alive, vibrant, and relevant. 

As a supportive teacher, Barlow was challenged by the barriers administration put up for students. Barlow’s philosophy that the school needs to meet kids where they are both academically, socially, and emotionally, often receives pushback from other teachers and administration.

Barlow has been working at PHS for over two decades and has decided it’s time to move on and start the next phase of her life. “COVID did me in. Not being able to do circle was really hard for me because it’s such a community builder, ” Barlow says. 

Circle was an activity she introduced to the class several years ago to allow students to connect as a class and express their feelings or opinions before getting to work. Students sit around a table with several talking pieces to choose from. The circle opens to the chime of tingsha bells and Barlow reviews the circle guidelines: speak from the heart, listen from the heart, trust what to say, and say not too much and not too little. While one student looks for the daily question another picks a talking piece to be passed around. To close the circle each student picks one word to describe circle that day, and it ends with another chime. Mueller, along with many other students, says circle is his favorite part of the class. 

In addition to the COVID adjustments, the administration is always making changes which Barlow found difficult to keep up with. 

Although Barlow will no longer be working at PHS, she isn’t stopping her career. She has already started individual therapy with non-PHS students at Tradeport Counseling. In her free time, she will be spending time with her newborn grandbaby.

Barlow has been able to provide a safe space for her students when they feel stressed, unfocused, or unmotivated, where they can relax and talk about their feelings. In a discussion, two anonymous students explained that Barlow has motivated them to stay in school and push themselves. The students described her as an open-minded, caring person who prioritizes respect toward her students making them feel comfortable enough to reach out for help or advice without worrying about being judged.  

Barlow will be missed greatly by the community at PHS!