Jessie Ornelas-Mares is the new counselor at Idyllwild School. Photo by Marshall Smith
Jessie Ornelas-Mares is the new counselor at Idyllwild School.
Photo by Marshall Smith

Jessie Ornelas-Mares splits her time as school counselor between two of the most highly regarded schools in the Hemet Unified School District, Idyllwild School and Cottonwood Elementary. “I feel very honored and privileged to have this opportunity,” said Ornelas-Mares, of serving both distinguished schools as a first-year school counselor.

The longtime Hemet resident said she feels very comfortable in Idyllwild. That is because she traces her Idyllwild family connections back many generations to the early 1900s when her Italian immigrant great-great grandfather, Joseph Scaramella, from the northern Italian area of Lombardy, built an Idyllwild cabin. “We’re in the process of rehabbing it now,” she said.

Although she is beginning her first year as a school counselor, Ornelas-Mares has spent eight years with the Hemet Unified School District, as an aide and substitute teacher, and in special ed. Ornelas-Mares holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands, with an undergraduate degree in sociology and anthropology, and a graduate degree in education and school counseling.

Asked why, with undergraduate degrees in sociology and anthropology, she was drawn to counseling as opposed to teaching, she said, “My strengths are in helping in the deeper personal levels with the students. When something is troubling them in their home lives, they’re blocked from moving forward. The wounds can be deep. My background and life choices have prepared me to deal with these challenges.”

Ornelas-Mares talked about why she chose to study sociology and anthropology as an undergraduate. “My family had been in Hemet for generations,” she related. “I needed to know about inequalities, other groups and backgrounds and influences different from my own. It was the best choice of majors ever.”

She talked about what she is looking forward to accomplishing at Idyllwild School. “We’re already in the process of forming some student support groups, for instance for students with low GPAs,” she said. “I’ll be working with them to form some study strategies and time-management skills.

“It’s helped that I have had background in teaching, so that I understand the demands of the classroom. I’m looking forward to working with the students, faculty and with the community.”