MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 21, 2013

Fenton works hard to help others

Students, disaster victims all benefit from her desire

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Tracy Fenton’s desire to help others has led her in many directions — and she hasn’t stopped.

She’s gone from teaching special education to counseling middle-schoolers at Hilldale Middle School.

She also has shared her desire to help victims of disasters, such as the Interstate 40 bridge collapse near Webbers Falls in 2002 and those who fled Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Fenton, 49, knows what first led her in such a direction.

“I grew up in a very loving and supportive family,” she said. “My parents encouraged me to be a caring and supportive child. I have grown from that foundation.”

Fenton said her mother, Marilyn Bronaugh, who died last year, was a caring and supportive person. She said her father, Lewis Hudson, was very patient.

“They taught me to be respectful and grateful for things,” she said.

She took social work and education classes at Northeastern State University. When she was a student teacher at Muskogee High School, she visited a special education classroom.

“I helped out there and knew that was what I should be doing,” Fenton said. “There were a lot of kids with a lot of special needs, and I just enjoyed helping those students.”

She spent 14 years at Hilldale teaching children with learning disabilities.

In 1999, the middle school principal asked Fenton if she could be a school counselor. At first, Fenton refused, choosing to stay in the classroom.

Then came the shootings at Columbine High School.

“That was a defining moment, a benchmark for me,” she said. “I felt very strongly about character education and bullying prevention.”

She accepted the counselor position.

Meet Tracy Fenton

AGE: 49.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

CAREER: Counselor, Hilldale Middle School.

EDUCATION: Grant Foreman Elementary School, Alice Robertson Junior High; Muskogee High School, 1981; Connors State College, 1983; Northeastern State University, 1985.

FAMILY: Husband, Mark Fenton.

CHURCH: Boulevard Christian Church.

HOBBIES: Fishing, exercise, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

Encouraging character

among students

Tracy Fenton said the shootings at Columbine High School bolstered her commitment to what she calls “whole school prevention.”

“I have seen the pain of those in the school, and I have seen counselors and teachers torture themselves with questions about how they failed to prevent the tragedy,” she said. “I challenged myself to learn from each tragic event so that I would be better prepared for the future.”

Fenton said prevention is one key to school safety.

“I don’t want any student to feel excluded or left out,” she said.

After taking the job as middle school counselor, Fenton lost little time in setting up character education and bullying prevention programs at the school.

At the start of the 2012 school year, for example, students were encouraged to take a “No Taunting” pledge by signing a bulletin board. Students also were encouraged to “Mix It Up” by eating lunch with someone who usually wasn’t their lunch mate. The school also is active in the city of Muskogee’s character program, which observes different qualities each month.

The work helped Hilldale Middle School receive the 2012 National Exemplary Bullying Program from the School Safety Advocacy Council.



Learning from

volunteering

As a mental health volunteer for the American Red Cross, Fenton’s desire to help others has touched people affected by disasters.

She said she had volunteered for the Red Cross for many years, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made her want to do more.

“I had been a school psychologist, and I wanted to grow more skills, be prepared for crises that may arise, help with people,” she said.

The local Red Cross coordinator at the time recognized such qualifications and encouraged her to specialize in mental health volunteer work.

Since getting her certification, Fenton has offered her services when the Interstate 40 bridge across the Arkansas River collapsed in 2002 and when more than 1,400 Hurricane Katrina evacuees lived at Camp Gruber in 2005.

“After the bridge collapse, we went down to assess and work with families and volunteers as well,” she said. “I talked with families to assess what they may have needed.”

At Camp Gruber, Fenton worked with volunteers and helped conduct debriefing sessions each day.

“I was amazed and pleasantly surprised at the outpouring and generosity in our community,” she recalled. “People in the medical profession did what they could. My mother volunteered. These evacuees were people who were left homeless. Clothing was a big issue. They had questions about lost possessions, no IDs, no drivers’ licenses, not knowing where their families were.”



Sharing the

benefits of yoga

After long days at school, Fenton often heads to Champion Fitness.

However, instead of hitting the treadmills or weight machines, she usually finds a quiet place to get centered and position herself. Such positions might be Downward Facing Dog, Cobra, Extended Triangle or Happy Baby.

Fenton teaches yoga at the fitness center and is a firm believer in its benefits.

“I just knew the benefits of yoga, and I wanted to learn more about it,” she said, adding that she had always been interested in fitness.

“It’s something everyone can do,” she said. “When you want to increase strength or flexibility, you can get it all through yoga.”

She teaches with a gentle voice, understanding that not all her students are as skilled as she is.

“What I tell people is you have to listen to your body,” Fenton said. “They may be at Level 1, or we can get to advanced stages. Everyone has a different life history. Some days you have energy, some days you don’t.”

That’s why she has this rule in her class — “Leave your egos at the door. This is not a competition.”

Fenton said yoga has made her a much calmer person.

“It helps put things in perspective,” she said. “There’s more balance, and it reduces stress. When I leave school feeling uptight, yoga exercises rejuvenate me. I feel better the next day. I learned to breathe and to slow things down. When you can slow down, you can quiet your mind. It allows you to listen to God’s voice.”

Q&A

HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?

“I was born in Muskogee Regional Hospital May 12, 1962. My parents graduated from Central High School here. My mother was originally from Muskogee as were her parents. I stayed because I love my job at Hilldale and I have family here.”

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?

“A lot of wonderful people live here. It has a rich history, and I am happy to see the improvements of downtown. We need to restore our old buildings instead of tearing them down.”

WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?

“We need to improve our fairgrounds and encourage more events to be held there. I would like to see a safer way to ride bikes around town and a more convenient way to recycle. I also would like to see more community involvement.”

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?

Counselor at Hilldale Middle School; yoga instructor at Champion Fitness.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

“I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I also like watching movies, exercising, fishing, and I still ride a motorcycle.”

WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?

“My parents were a great example for me as I grew up. From them I learned a strong work ethic and how to treat others respectfully. I really admire my dad. He is always looking at the positive side of every situation, and I learned to appreciate what I have, to be grateful and resourceful.”

WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?

“I have a lot of wonderful memories — simple things like swimming lessons, tennis and picnics in Honor Heights and Spaulding parks. In 2012 we were honored by the National Safe School Advocacy Council for having an Exemplary Bullying Prevention Program at Hilldale Middle School.”

HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?

“Muskogee is a large city with the charm of a small town with many friendly, talented people.”