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Jeffco Hero Awards: Kym O'Donnell

Jeffco Hero Awards: Kym O'Donnell
Posted on 11/30/2018
Westgate Elementary instructional coach Kym O’Donnell spends some quiet time with a student.Schools are more than places of learning, and the people who work inside them, are more than staff – they are family. Kym O'Donnell is no different. She's an instructional coach at Westgate Elementary, and she's always on the move.

“I go around and support all the students and teachers with anything they need. Modeling with teachers. Working with small groups of kids,” explained O’Donnell. “Nothing is the same any day. I think success is everywhere. With adults, with kids.”

“What kids need every day from an instructional coach, it’s pretty impactful,” added Principal David Weiss.

In early August, the Westgate Elementary family, including Kym, was extremely busy with preparations for a new school year.

“Most people don’t realize what happens behind the scenes before the school year, before the doors open for the kids to walk in,” said Weiss. “There’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of planning, there’s a lot of intricacies that go into creating an excellent school year.”

One of those behind the scenes things was a welcome back meeting for Kym and other Jeffco instructional coaches at the district’s Ed Center in Golden. And that's when it happened.

“I got a call. I did not recognize the number. The police couldn’t find me, so they came here (at Westgate) to find me in the midst of trying to find me at the Ed Center,” said O’Donnell.

Kym's police officer husband, Lakewood Traffic Agent Mark O'Donnell, had been in a terrible motorcycle accident.

“When you’re in Trauma 10 at [St. Anthony’s Hospital] it’s not a good sign,” explained O’Donnell.

The injuries were severe; dozens of broken bones, including a broken neck and back. The recovery was long. It was Agent O'Donnell's second line-of-duty-injury. O’Donnell's school family rallied around her and the couple's daughter, Mylee, a fifth-grader at Westgate. She was grateful for the love and support. Amazingly, she wanted to show her love and support, too, by returning to work, balancing hospital visits with the needs of Westgate's most at-risk students. She didn’t want to let them down at one of the most important times of the year.

“The reason we come into this is for the kids. I just wanted to help them get started as easily as possible,” she said.

There was a lot more in her motivation to return. Something that's always driven her. She grew up in foster and kinship care. Her mom was an addict.

“You’re given a deck of cards and you play it to the best of your ability and hope you end up coming out a little bit better than you started,” said O’Donnell.

That experience gave her a unique perspective, and an overwhelming desire to help students going through tough times.

“We’ve got several students in our building who are homeless. I see her working with those kids directly, and I see Kym reaching out to teachers to make sure they have the resources to meet the needs of those students,” explained Weiss. “[She wants] to help them see that, ‘look, leading a life that way when you’re five-, six-, seven, eight-years-old, that’s hard, that’s not easy.’ Kym knows how that can play out for someone.”

“I just really appreciate you. I feel like you deserve this honor,” Weiss said to O’Donnell. “I think we need to honor your husband for the work he does, but our school wouldn’t be where it is today without you.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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