2013-01-25 / Front Page

No small feat

Judy Magnuson wins the Sentry’s Great Person Award
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Judy Magnuson, speech therapist at the Dora L. Small Elementary School in South Portland, is the Sentry’s Great Person award-winner for 2012. Magnuson, a South Portland resident, has worked at the Small School for the last eight years, and remained involved in volunteer work with the First Congregational Church, as well as the South Portland High School Track Boosters. (Jack Flagler photo) Judy Magnuson, speech therapist at the Dora L. Small Elementary School in South Portland, is the Sentry’s Great Person award-winner for 2012. Magnuson, a South Portland resident, has worked at the Small School for the last eight years, and remained involved in volunteer work with the First Congregational Church, as well as the South Portland High School Track Boosters. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – The education field has its share of challenges. Funding issues have, at times, forced teachers and staff to do more with less as states across the U.S. try to tighten their belts in tough times.

“I don’t think that’s a surprise, it can be disheartening sometimes,” said Judy Magnuson, speech therapist at the Small School in South Portland. “But just walking down the hall, when you see the kids, that really overrides all of it.”

Magnuson has worked as the speech therapist in Small School for eight years, while finding the time to volunteer at her church, First Congregational on Cottage Road in South Portland, and helping out with the South Portland High School track boosters. For her outstanding work in the community, Magnuson was named the Sentry’s Great Person of 2012.

Magnuson said it’s easy to become frustrated when hearing about the difficulties educators face through discussions in Augusta or Washington, D.C. However, when she walks down the hallway in Small School, her goals and objectives are put in perspective.

“I want that kid to be able to read and be able to explain what he read. I want that kid to be secure enough to say ‘This is what I know,’” she said.

Jennifer Christensen of South Portland nominated Magnuson for the award. Christensen’s fourth-grade son Jack has worked with Magnuson since he was a second-grader.

“Communication is an ongoing effort” for Jack, who has Down syndrome, Jennifer Christensen said.

While Jack deserves much of the credit for his improved communication skills through his own hard work, Christensen was quick to praise Magnuson’s impact on her son’s development.

“She’s so knowledgeable and has such a great way with him. She deserves recognition for the work she does,” Christensen said.

Magnuson works with between 25 and 30 students at every level between kindergarten and fifth grade. Her lessons focus on helping students retell a story, sequence, retrieve vocabulary and understand concepts. At times, she will pull a student out of a class, other times she will sit in on a classroom teacher’s lesson.

Additionally, Magnuson goes into each kindergarten classroom in Small School to occasionally teach her own lessons, and she attends all kindergarten screenings for future students.

Those screenings are “nerve-wracking” for the parents of a kindergarten child, Magnuson said. While the children are usually excited, moms and dads can be nervous sending their young child off to school.

“I’ve been there. I put my two (children) through school, so I understand the feeling,” Magnuson said. “The more (parents) see the faces involved, the easier it is.”

Christensen said when Jack’s little brother Ben recently came to a kindergarten screening, it was Magnuson who helped Ben through his initial nervousness.

“She was able to get down to his level and talk to him. He walked away with her like he didn’t have a care in the world,” Christensen said.

Magnuson said the helpful and positive staff at Small School make her job easy.

“It’s a really supportive, great team right from the principal right on down. We all work together, and we all look out for kids together,” Magnuson said.

As an example of the staff’s mutual support, she pointed to a recent activity in which students, classroom teachers and other staff members all created “Pinwheels for Peace,” peace signs in the middle of a paper pinwheel cutout adorned with unique decorations. After a morning assembly, the entire school placed the pinwheels outside the school, where they’ll stand “until the next storm” Magnuson joked.

Outside the classroom, Magnuson is on two different boards for First Congregational Church. She organizes weekly events, plans fundraisers, teaches Sunday School and plans the annual Holiday Bazaar, all with help from her husband, children and her mother.

Magnuson’s daughter Lauren is a sophomore track runner at South Portland High School. As a booster, Judy Magnuson organizes bingo fundraisers, helps out with banquets and generally is there “whenever coach needs something we can do,” which includes, sometimes, bringing water to meets.

“She’s one of those people you say goodbye to, and you turn around and she’s right there,” Christensen said. “I know she goes above and beyond what a speech therapist has to do.”

Return to top