Olympia High School’s Kim Reykdal has been named a finalist for National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association.
She and the other five finalists are headed to Washington D.C. next monthto meet with lawmakers, attend a congressional briefing, participate in a White House ceremony featuring first lady Michelle Obama and celebrate at a black-tie gala at Union Station.
“I’m super excited,” said Reykdal, 44, of Tumwater. “I can’t believe that I get to go to the White House.”
Her husband, state Rep. Chris Reykdal , D-Tumwater, has been invited to the other Washington a couple of times but has never gone, she said. This time, the lawmaker and candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction plans to join his wife for the award ceremony and festivities.
“We sort of joke that the first time we get to go to the White House will be because of me,” Reykdal said with a chuckle. “That’s sort of the joke right now is he’s riding on my coattails for once.”
Reykdal said she’s incredibly humbled by the recognition. She is the career and college readiness counselor at the nearly 1,800-student Olympia High School, where she’s worked since 2006. Before that she worked as a school counselor at Yelm, Capital and Tumwater high schools.
“She’s done an awful lot of heavy work for our students,” said Olympia High principal Matt Grant. “She’s very high-energy, very student-focused and very passionate about making school relevant and meaningful for students.”
Reykdal also is in her second term as a Tumwater School Board director and is co-chair of the Washington School Counselor Association’s advocacy committee. She was selected as the state’s 2015 Career Counselor of the Year last February.
After winning the state award, Reykdal was nominated for the national recognition program.
She had to submit seven essays, three letters of recommendation and a 3- to 5-minute video. About 90 people applied, and Reykdal was one of the six finalists flown to Alexandria, Virginia, in November for interviews. That’s when the national winner — Katherine Pastor of Flagstaff, Arizona — was selected.
All of the finalists received a paid trip to Washington, D.C. for themselves and two guests. Reykdal is bringing Olympia High School assistant principal Mick Hart, and Chris Kelly, executive director of the Washington School Counselor Association.
Reykdal grew up in Orange County, California, and moved to the Northwest to attend Washington State University on a full-ride athletic scholarship for swimming.
At the end of her sophomore year, she decided to pursue a teaching degree so that she could continue taking psychology classes, without committing to extra time required to become a psychologist.
“One of the things I loved about psychology is you get to learn about yourself and the way people behave and act,” Reykdal said.
She and her husband taught for a few years before they decided to attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love, that is true,” Reykdal said of teaching.
She earned a Master’s in Education with certification in school counseling.
Reykdal and her husband have been married for 20 years. Their children, Carter, 11, and Kennedy, 9, attend Michael T. Simmons Elementary School in Tumwater.
When she’s not doing something related to education — and there’s not much time left in the day when that can happen — Reykdal said she enjoys spending time with their kids.
“I love watching them play sports,” she said. “I love being involved in what they’re doing. Every once in a while, our family has a do-nothing day.”
Reykdal said her favorite part of her job is working with students directly and opening their minds to all of the opportunities beyond high school, from four-year universities and art schools to apprenticeships and community college programs.
“They have got to think about who they are,” Reykdal said.
She said a big part of her job is helping students answer three questions: “Who am I? What can I become? And how do I get there?”
“Without her I’m not sure what we’d do,” said Olympia High junior Adam Harding, 17. “She’s definitely important to our community.”
In addition to helping students with college and career readiness, Reykdal said school counselors also help students with academic and social emotional issues. One of the biggest changes she seen during her career is a rise in mental health issues, she said.
“I think what we see societally is reflected in the kids,” she said
Suicide rates are up, and more teens are being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Reykdal said.
“For lack of better words, I call it the 9/11 affect,” she said. “I think these kids have grown up in a different world and especially recently there has been a huge increase in safety (concerns) and the things going on in their world.”
Another big part of her job is helping parents support students with a post-high school plan.
Sometimes that’s not easy, especially if a student doesn’t want to go the route their parents had expected, Reykdal said
“We have to be here as champions and we have to be there to support their decisions,” she said. “... And sometimes that might mean letting them fall down.”
A school counselor’s job is to bring several parties — parents, teachers, school staff, outside agencies — together to help support a student, Reykdal said.
“There is a pathway for every student,” she said. “My job is to help them build it, and I am so grateful to do the extraordinary work of impacting students’ lives every day.”