Sean Mulvey served for nine years as the assistant principal of the Tisbury School before moving over to the guidance office at the regional high school this fall. He said he loved his job at the Tisbury School, but his heart has always been in counseling. It is where he started, as a guidance counselor in Colorado, and he’s been hoping to return to the field ever since.

“It’s a unique situation,” Mr. Mulvey said, referring to his journey from the Tisbury School to the regional high school. “Because as I’m writing all these college recommendations, though I’ve known our seniors this year just as their guidance counselor, I’m able to write that I’ve known them for nine years.”

“But it’s funny,” he continued. “Erika has been here for one year already and she already really knows the kids. So it’s kind of like an unofficial mentorship. . . She gets to show me the ropes.”

Erika is Erika Mulvey, Sean’s wife, and together they now make up 50 per cent of the guidance counselors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Erika Mulvey began as a guidance counselor at the regional high school in 2018. — Jeanna Shepard

“Our offices are right next door,” Erika said. “We would see each other all day if we cut a window in the wall.”

Guidance counselors have a range of responsibilities that mostly come under the categories of support, direction and motivation. But each fall, as seniors begin the college application process in earnest, the Mulveys say their focus is on helping students navigate the grueling, and often existential, application process.

The couple understands the importance of choosing the right college perhaps more than anybody. It’s actually how they met, as graduate students at the University of Colorado in Denver.

“We had one class together,” Erika said. “I was in my first year and he was in his last.”

Sean continued: “We had one class together and, yeah, we just went from there.”

That was over 20 years ago, and since then their paths have traveled between different schools and different branches of the education system, from Colorado to Martha’s Vineyard. They moved to the Island in 2010 on a whim, they said, after sending out inquiries to schools all across New England. Sean was hired as assistant principal at the West Tisbury School and then in 2011 became the assistant principal of the Tisbury School.

Erika worked in various positions in the Island school system, most recently as a middle school counselor at the Oak Bluffs School, before becoming a guidance counselor at the regional high school in 2018.

And this year they aren’t the only Mulvey’s currently at the regional high school. Their son, Ben, is a sophomore, and soon will be going through his own college application process, although John Fiorito, the department head, will take the lead for him. Their daughter Avery is in seventh grade, and though she should be far away at the Tisbury School, the renovations currently underway there have placed her back at her dad’s office — and now her mom’s too.

Sean Mulvey was the assistant principal at the Tisbury School for nine years. — Jeanna Shepard

“She had to put up with me all day long when I was back at the Tisbury School,” Sean said. “She was so excited to finally be on her own for once. . . poor kid.”

As if one cue, Avery walks into the office. Asked if she is happy to be back in the same school as her parents she shrugged. “Yeah,” she said, pausing a moment to let the irony to sink in. “I mean. . . yeah.”

Though early in their tenure, Sean and Erika have already noticed one of the biggest differences between the regional high school and their previous jobs in Colorado.

“I used to have 400 students in Colorado, now I only have 150,” Erika said. “Not that it’s less work, it’s demanding. But I feel like we do a lot more for our kids here. . . We have the resources to be so much more involved in their social and emotional lives.”

But there are challenges, they agreed.

“The A-word. That’s the big one,” Erika said. “Kids are very anxious, more than when we started out. I think kids are really struggling with coping skills and being able to persevere through tough times. I don’t mean to sound like it isn’t justified. They have a lot more on their plate and we are trying really hard to find the tools to help them keep going.”

“They’re dealing with things now that no kid has ever had to deal with,” Sean agreed. “We just have to keep them putting one foot in front of the other.”

Sean and Erika said they are still working to figure out their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of counseling, and how to harness those strengths to best serve their students.

“I think we don’t really know who is best at what yet, because we’re so new,” Sean said. “We have a lot of overlap. But if one of us needs some help, we can just knock on the next door.