By Brenna R. Kelly
Kentucky kids can do anything.
Fayette County teacher Duane Keaton believes it. Now he’s hoping that more than 1,000 other people will show him and his students that they believe it too.
Keaton, an art and drama teacher at Southern Middle School, and his students are trying to collect 1,000 pictures of people holding a sign that reads “Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything.”
The project is part of Keaton’s after-school film making club, which also serves as the school’s chapter of the Student Technology and Leadership Program. The idea, he said, is to “inspire, remind, encourage and strengthen kids across Kentucky with one single message – we believe in you.”
So far, the pictures have come from as far away as Oregon and from a wide variety of people, including a Jimmy Johns delivery driver and a U.S. congressman.
Once Keaton reaches 1,000 pictures, he plans to turn them into one picture – a collage that reads “We believe in you.”
“I’ve had a good number of students who have fallen into some of the darker things in life like drugs and suicide,” said Keaton, who has been teaching for 10 years. “I just kept thinking that if these kids knew what they were capable of, if they knew that they really could be a contributor to our community, maybe they wouldn’t go into those things, maybe they would have a little more belief in themselves.”
Keaton also likes the idea that instead of one picture being worth a 1,000 words, 1,000 pictures will be worth one important message to Kentucky’s children.
The final collage is expected to be available to all Kentucky schools through the Kentucky Department of Education’s website, he said.
In addition to the pictures and collage, students are working on a documentary as part of their STLP project. Keaton is looking for people to send the students stories about Kentucky kids doing something amazing or something they remember doing as a child.
“We need stories to read in the documentary,” he said.
Students also may write about some of the people who have sent in photos and then read their work in the documentary
As of late January, Keaton had collected more than 400 pictures, which can be emailed to him or uploaded to the Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything Facebook page.
When the project launched in the fall of 2015, the pictures came pouring in. They have come from every part of Kentucky and beyond – one shows the words scrawled in sand on a beach – and from all kinds of people.
On a whim, Keaton called into the Bob and Sheri show, a national radio show aired in Lexington on 96.9 FM.
“I got on and they gave me about 30 seconds to talk about Kentucky Kids Can Do Anything and within about two hours, I got 60 or 70 pictures from across the country,” he said.
In Kentucky, former Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman Andy Barr, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the Kentucky Board of Education have all sent in pictures.
There are also some famous names, including television actor Peter Breitmayer; Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs” and the “Deadliest Catch;” and several Channel 18 television anchors and reporters who have all posed for pictures.
But probably the most famous name so far is Jordan Smith, Harlan native and winner of NBC’s “The Voice.”
Keaton has tried to reach out other famous Kentuckians through the club’s Twitter account @room24filmclub, including actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Judd, actors George Clooney and Johnny Depp, and University of Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari. So far, none of those have responded.
But it’s not just celebrities that Keaton wants to show that they believe in Kentucky’s kids.
“People think that they have to have achieved some great fame in order to send in a picture and that’s not true,” he said. “We want anyone who simply is a good role model or who believes in Kentucky kids. That’s it.”
Keaton hopes to reach 1,000 by the end of February in time for the STLP competition. The project scored 96 out of 100 at the regional event, he said.
The 25 students in the film making club are getting experience promoting the project, with several appearing on WTVQ Channel 36 in Lexington. Students also made two video trailers explaining the project and posted them to the group’s Facebook page. In one trailer, Keaton tells the viewer:
“I believe in Kentucky kids,” he said.
Then students appear and ask, “I believe, do you?”
MORE INFO …
Duane Keaton Duane.Keaton@fayette.kyschools.us