by Caylee Winpigler for Walkersville High School Lion’s Pride
Guidance counselor Doctor Debra Phebus takes dedication to a new level. Phebus has been impacting the lives of FCPS students for 38 years and her passion is far from gone.
She began her career as a gym teacher and coach at Catoctin High School. “Sports was my life. I loved coaching more than teaching. My dad was in the minor leagues for baseball. He wanted to get a son and instead got a tomgirl. The story was that when I was given my first doll I picked her up and threw her across the room yelling ‘Hike!’”
In her ten years as a gym teacher, she had many sweet memories to share. “One year my nose broke. We were playing a ball game in the gym class and a second grader hit my nose,” she added with her hand over her heart, “The kid felt so bad that he brought me roses the next day.”
Another memory involved the upcoming holiday, Halloween, in which a student dressed as her. “At the time, I was on crutches. The student’s dad called me and asked if it was okay if he dressed as me and I said yes. For the rest of the day, he was my assistant which he thought was pretty cool.” She had felt flattered that the student dressed as her. In her mind it displayed the influence she was having on her student’s lives.
After being a coach for ten years, she was motivated to become a guidance counselor. “I found challenges in my teams. They would come to me and I couldn’t help them, so I decided to get my degree. And I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Initially Phebus attended Frostburg and obtained a degree in physical education. Her thirst for knowledge was hardly quenched as she then went to McDaniel. At Western Maryland she received two masters: one in administration and the other in counseling. Finally, she earned her PhD being enrolled in online classes offered by Capella, a college in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Phebus openly admits that on her first day of being a counselor she got in trouble. “My boss told me that I was spending too much time with kids.” Though she responded to her boss that, that was the reason she took the job “to spend time with the kids.”
Beyond being driven, she personifies dedication and hardwork. Phebus recalled on a past guidance counselor who tried to discourage her. “[The counselor] told me that I would not graduate or be successful and that drove me. I didn’t want anyone else to have the same experience.”
Phebus had always known that she was meant to do a job that allowed her to interact with people. She began as a Girl Scout and a camp counselor. The job that solidified her desire to work with people was a packing job in a leather goods factory. “[The jobs] were okay and they made money for college,” Phebus added with a proud grin, “I had to pay for every degree myself. I always knew I was a people person too, so my packing job wasn’t fun.”
However, just like everyone else, Phebus does enjoy letting her hair down and taking some leisurely time to herself.
“I love to travel. I have been to Aruba thirty-five times. Every day is the same: eighty-two degrees and the ocean is bright blue,” she said with an affectionate look.
Aruba is one of her favorite travel spots because she is not a fan of the cold weather. She and her husband, also, made a lot of precious memories there. Her husband started out as a professional firefighter and eventually progressed to owning his own heating and mechanics business.
Both spouses were deeply embedded in their work when they met and did not have time to raise children of their own. Luckily they had the opportunity to bring up their nephew who now has a daughter.
At the mention of her nephew, she gleefully pulled out her phone to show a picture of her fifteen month old grand-niece, Olivia. “There she is,” Phebus said with a happy glow to her face, “in her Capitals outfit.”
Along with spending time with her family, she also is a concert goer. Her favorite artist is Jimmy Buffet because she can relate to his music. “I like his songs because they tell a story and they address the issues of society. Also, he likes the Caribbean just like me.”
She joyfully laughed and said “I actually brought [Math Teacher] Mr. [Mark] Cronk to a concert once.”
Phebus has good relationships with everyone in her vacinity further supported by the numerous pictures hanging on her wall of graduated seniors in her office. This not only encapsulates her friendly personality, but the boundless influence she has had in many student’s lives.
Phebus represents a great role model for the students at WHS showing that even when one person looks down upon you, you can achieve what they think you can’t do, and more.