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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Her heart is always with the kids’: Stevens Elementary educator surprised when honored as Washington counselor of the year

Stevens Elementary School counselor Fondra Magee didn’t hesitate to join a Zoom meeting with her principal when she was out of town and off work Wednesday.

Expecting a standard meeting to tie up some loose ends, she was speechless to turn her camera on to 400 Stevens pupils squealing and whooping in the gym, holding handmade signs declaring their love and pride for the counselor at their Chief Garry Park school.

School officials surprised Magee in front of her whole school by announcing that she was named Washington State School Counselor of the Year .

Away for family reasons, Magee attended the assembly via Zoom, under the guise of a standard meeting with her boss.

“I love my job,” Magee said in an interview, still reeling from her award. “I love getting up every single day and coming to work, and that’s a gift to be able to say that. You get a paycheck, but I’d almost do it anyway.”

Loving, joyous and kind were all words used liberally to describe Magee, both in her role as a school counselor and as a friend, as many co-workers now consider her.

“She always gives the extra mile to help people, to help her friends,” said Brittney Diaz, a counselor at Longfellow Elementary and former co-worker of Magee’s. Diaz recalls during her pregnancy, Magee rallied staff to create a food train delivered to Diaz and her family.

Basking under Magee’s sunny disposition, Stevens students and families know Magee as a tireless advocate, heavily involved in initiatives in and outside the school.

At Stevens, she advises several leadership programs for students, including a peers to pals mentorship and tutoring program between fifth-graders and younger students and a puppetry class in which she explores conflict resolution using play. Puppetry pupils also pass on their learning to their peers.

“I love using our older kids in leadership positions,” Magee said. “Kids listen to kids better than they listen to adults sometimes.”

Her leadership students also wheel wagons full of food and other necessities to Family Promise, an emergency shelter a few strides from Stevens in the school’s annual Kindness Drive, another endeavor Magee spearheaded.

“That’s just an example of her kind of pulling kids into her kindness and modeling what kindness and service looks like for our students, which she’s an awesome example of,” Stevens Principal Adrian Espindola said.

Her efforts extend beyond Stevens’ walls. She serves on the districtwide crisis response team, whose members swoop in during tumultuous times to provide trauma or grief counseling to students in need.

Magee started her career as a teacher in Tennessee in 1986. She joined the counseling staff at Stevens in 2015.

A school-based registered play therapist, Magee is also on the board of the Washington State Association for Play Therapy.

The job of a school counselor can be emotionally draining, she said, listening to and helping students work through heartbreaking situations.

“The healing power of seeing a child work through those struggles through healing counseling and play and then go back to the classroom and learn, it’s just been one of the greatest parts of my career,” Magee said.

Outside of schools, Magee is heavily involved in Lion’s Heart, a nonprofit children’s grief and bereavement center.

“There’s something about that grief counseling that I’ve been drawn to,” Magee said. “I’m passionate about helping others with their grief. I’ve gone through my own grief in my life and it’s hard, but there’s something kinda outside of yourself that helps you to go in and have that calm when other people don’t.”

Over the Zoom call, Magee was for the most part “speechless,” though she found the words to thank other school counselors. She credits her success largely to others at Stevens who have created a nurturing and jubilant environment at the school, “like Disneyland,” she said.

Namely, eternally supportive Espindola and co-counselor Sheree “Rizz” Rizzardi, who nominated Magee for the award.

“She runs circles around me,” Rizzardi said, laughing. “You know, she thinks I run circles around her, nuh-uh, Fondra, you run circles around me. It’s just on and on and on. I mean, her heart is always with the kids; that is first and foremost.”

Surrounded by beloved Stevens staff and thousands of other school counselors in the state “in the trenches” at work, Magee felt humbled and undeserving to be recognized for her efforts as a counselor.

“I feel like we should just all accept this award together,” Magee said. “I am low on the totem pole. I feel very humbled. If I’m on any kind of stage, I want everyone with me, because I couldn’t do it alone.”