Wondra keeps backpacks filled, spirits up

Counselor can do more with $6,000 Kohl fellowship

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of stories about students and educators receiving funding from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation in 2019.

Bonduel Elementary School counselor Kris Wondra has gone above and beyond in her job, making sure students have enough to eat, planning family events and serving as the leader of the school’s parent-teacher organization.

Her tireless efforts have helped her to earn a $6,000 fellowship award from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. Wondra is one of 100 teachers to receive the fellowship.

“I was very surprised,” Wondra said. “I was in a meeting, and (school principal) Brad Grayvold walked in and said, ‘I have to talk to you.’ I thought, ‘Oh, no. What happened?’”

As it turned out, there was nothing to dread, as Grayvold had received the news of Wondra’s nomination for the fellowship award being accepted. Wondra had been nominated by Grayvold and Lisa Sorlie, Bonduel School District’s media specialist.

“She is a prime example of who other school staff members want to follow,” Grayvold wrote in his nomination letter. “Each morning she comes into school with her own children which, she will explain, are part of her larger school family. She is a leader, colleague, mother-figure, counselor, shoulder to cry on, person who lifts people up when they are down and one who recognizes that her impact on others has a direct effect now, but leaves a life-long impression on everyone she connects with.”

Among the projects that Wondra spearheads is the Backpack Blessings program. This project provides students with backpacks full of food on Fridays to take home for the weekend if there is not enough food in the house.

Bonduel also has free clothing swaps twice a year, where gently used clothing that can no longer be worn by growing children can be traded for clothes that will fit. There is also a penny drive done in the classrooms each year to help purchase Christmas presents and winter gear for students, most of it brand new.

“The kids who are in need are used to getting hand-me-downs. I was one of those kids growing up,” Wondra said. “The idea that you can get something new, that’s your own that you get to keep, and I tell the kids, ‘You don’t have to give that back.’”

The elementary school has 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, so there are plenty of students that fall into the “in need” category, according to Wondra.

Wondra also makes sure students have happy holidays at other times of the year. The counselor keeps a stockpile of valentines on hand for students to have, and she also keeps a supply of Halloween costumes in her room for those unable to afford their own.

“I also have the Bear Care closet, which includes laundry detergent, shampoo, deodorant, soap and toothbrushes,” Wondra said. “If families find themselves in need, they just let me know what they need, and I send it home.”

So how does she find time to do all these projects and make sure she’s serving the academic, emotional and career needs of more than 350 students?

“I drink a lot of coffee,” Wondra said. “My kids help me a lot. I’m busy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Wondra hopes to use some of the $6,000 award to help boost existing programs, but she said she wants to find out the parameters from the Kohl Foundation before she makes any final determinations.

“As the years go by, we try to offer more support for our families,” Wondra said. “Something’s going to come up. I don’t know what it is, but we’ll be ready to jump in and do whatever it is we need to do.”