LIVINGSTON, Calif. — For fifteen years, Alma Lopez has been a school counselor at Livingston Middle School in Livingston. It's a school with about 800 students.
After almost two decades of hard work, she can add the title of the American School Counselor Association "2022 School Counselor of the Year" award to her resume.
She learned she was the winner at a surprise school assembly in her honor in November 2021.
"I couldn't believe it. I'm one counselor in this tiny, rural community. But, I felt completely honored and humbled. I love my job. In fact, most of the time I don't even think I'm working," said Lopez.
In winning the award, ASCA Executive Director Jill Cook said in a news release, "Ms. Lopez provides an excellent example of school counseling advocacy," adding her work has reduced "student-to-school counselor ratios, ultimately improving student outcomes."
She was one of five finalists interviewed by a panel in Washington, D.C.
Her advocacy efforts in 2015 also contributed to the district expanding from two school counselors to five.
The Livingston Unified School District is made up of only four schools. There are about 2,500 students and about 80% are Hispanic with many of their parents working in the fields or in local warehouse processing facilities.
Lopez said the COVID-19 pandemic has made her job even more challenging.
"A lot of grief and loss. So our community and many communities throughout the nation have been impacted," she said.
13-year old Alejandro Vera lost his father last year and was supported by Lopez.
"She was keeping in contact with me and making sure I was ok," said Alejandro.
Maria Garcia credits Lopez with guiding her 18-year old son Diego through middle school. He is now an aerospace engineering student at the California Institute of Technology or Caltech.
"I believe he got a better perspective in regards what needed to be done in order to achieve that goal," said Garcia.
So with all the national attention what's next for Lopez?
She said more counseling and continued support for her students. But she also wants to serve as a role model for others like herself.
"I want to let 'la comunidad Espana latina' know this could be their child or their sibling," said Lopez.
The Manteca High School and Fresno State graduate will receive her award at a special ceremony in Washington D.C. on Feb. 3rd.