School Spotlight: Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything

This month’s school feature spotlights Southern Middle School, a passionate teacher, and their phenomenal STLP group.  They are proving that a picture is worth way more than 1,000 words!  I invite you to sit back, relax, and be inspired by this moving project as you read the words of teacher and sponsor, Mr. Duane Keaton.

Southern Films is the after school filmmaking club for Southern Middle School. It began with a single student asking to make a movie for her art project. That project is what opened my eyes to see how much of an interest, and how much of a need, there is for a filmmaking club. Over the past five years, the projects that we have done have included PSAs, short films, commercials for local businesses, and even a documentary about chasing down a weather balloon we launched to 99,000 feet. All that being said, this year’s project I think speaks back to that first student and her idea to make a movie. This year’s project is called “Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything”, and it is an idea whose main purpose is to encourage kids. You may have heard that a single picture is worth a thousand words. We would like to show how a thousand pictures can say a single message: We believe in you.

This is my tenth year teaching and as I’m sure all teachers would agree that after a while you feel like you’ve seen just about everything. I have seen students compete on a national level, earn awards, and take a stand against bullying. I have seen students walk their younger siblings to school and have heard of them helping out at home because their parents are not able to.  I have seen students do amazing things and they are just barely teenagers. However, I have also seen students fall victim to the darker things in life. I have had students overdose on drugs, lose a battle to cancer, cut themselves, and have taken their own lives. I will never know enough about anyone’s home life to make any reasonable judgment for why someone would act the way they do. But I will admit to feeling the guilt and shame of feeling like I can’t do enough to help. However, I do think there is something that can be done. Hope and encouragement are very powerful and the main idea behind Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything is to show all kids that there is hope and encouragement. Our project is very simple at it’s core: collect 1000 pictures of people holding a sign saying “Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything” and then assemble all those pictures in to one mosaic that spells the words “We Believe in You”. And then make that final image available to all schools across Kentucky. I understand that the tough job comes with that day to day interaction with students and that 1000 pictures are just pictures in the end. However, if, in that moment when I see a student not having a good day, I can point to an image of a 1000 people who are standing in that kid’s corner than maybe it would help. If we can show that 1000 different people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs and languages all agree on this one point, than maybe it would help. Maybe that kid who’s cutting herself can see physical proof that people do believe in her and would think twice about feeling worthless. Maybe that kid who gets in to drugs can see that picture and know that he is not alone. That there really are people who believe in him. That he is needed and can contribute.

I know there are many more than 1000 people who believe in kids, and I know it goes beyond the border of Kentucky. One of the opportunities I had when this began was to be on a national radio show, Bob and Sheri, and promote our project. Within an hour of being on that show we got over 40 pictures from all across the county. Each of them holding a sign saying Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything. It is not just a Kentucky thing, and it is certainly not just a Lexington thing. I’m hoping we can reach far and wide with this message. I’ve even sent a Twitter message to astronaut Jim Kelly as he is on the International Space Station asking for a picture. He hasn’t responded.  Yet. As I write this we are at 151 pictures and need a lot more. We are looking for anyone who would be considered a good role model for our kids. There has been a little confusion that it must be a picture of someone who has achieved some level of success, but that is not true. It is not success that makes us valuable, but our value comes from simply being alive. One message behind our idea is simply that if you are here than you have purpose and can contribute. This is one of the primary meanings behind the phrase “Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything.” It acknowledges that while not all students can become doctors or rocket scientists or NBA players, but that all students still have a value to our world. That values comes not from talent, but from being here. That they are valuable to the world not only for what they will become, but for who they are right now. Kentucky kids truly can do anything.

A final point to make about our project is that in addition to the “We Believe in You” image, a secondary goal is for us to create a documentary showing that Kentucky kids really are doing and have done amazing things. We are looking for people who are good story tellers about what kids are doing. Those people could be the kids themselves or adults who have seen what kids have done. It doesn’t take much for this, just the ability to tell a good story.

If anyone is interested in contributing a picture, you can do so by uploading it to our facebook page. If you would like to contribute to the documentary, please email me at