Neighborhood walk spreads ‘good vibes’

Nick Blank
Posted 2/13/19

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Two groups of educators split up to traverse Highridge Estates where they dispensed supportive words, bags of candy and plants to families of exceptional students.

The first …

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Neighborhood walk spreads ‘good vibes’


KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Two groups of educators split up to traverse Highridge Estates where they dispensed supportive words, bags of candy and plants to families of exceptional students.

The first house, no one answers. Instead, Keystone Heights Junior Senior High School Principal Aaron McWilliams leaves a voicemail about the student’s standout grades and behavior.

“I get a lot of joy out of this. I think visiting people on their home turf makes them relax,” McWilliams said. “We’re here to give them good news. In a world that’s so overloaded and overcomplicated with bad news, good news is good news.”

For the next house, McWilliams and Keystone Heights Elementary Principal Melanie Sanders tell Myrna Kelsey about the accomplishments of her grandsons, seventh-grader Brandon Hankerson and fourth-grader Aaron Hankerson. Kelsey said thanks should go to their mother, Cheryl.

“The visit is something I didn’t know about. I know when the boys go to school they give (teachers) a headache, but it makes me feel better to know about this,” Kelsey said with a laugh.

Cassy Girouard was organizing things in her yard when Sanders told her about how well her son Austin is doing.

“It feels amazing because there’s not enough good in the world. You hear all about the bad, it feels great and it makes me happy,” Girouard said. “It’s very welcoming.”

Before Pastor Carey Morford leaves Girouard’s home, she asked for directions. From above, Highridge is an even grid of rectangles. On foot, it feels like a labyrinth.

The effort was spearheaded by Morford, a former elementary school teacher. She lives and preaches in Highridge Estates at Mission of the Dirt Road. She navigates while Clay County School District project specialist Tina Baker drives. Baker jokes that Highridge’s bumpy dirt roads are nothing compared to the mountain tops she drove when she was a coal mine inspector.

“We should do this every quarter,” Baker said.

Highridge’s streets are named after colleges such as Notre Dame, Vassar and Swarthmore. A small portion of Highridge is paved. It’s one of the poorest communities in the county. Morford said there may be a disconnect between students and family members and school officials. Both can learn from each other, she said.

“I just know that sometimes there’s a disconnection between families, especially if they’re struggling or have lots of stress, between school and other agencies,” Morford said. “The teachers and schools can learn from my neighbors and I think my neighbors have things they can learn from the schools and other institutions. So anytime we can break down those barriers, I’m so excited about that.”

Magaly Carrion is grandmother of a sixth-grader, Genesis. Carrion called the visit wonderful.

“This is great that they take the time to come,” Carrion said. “This is more than amazing.”

“We’re just saying thank you that she’s working hard,” said Sanders as she gave Carrion a daisy.

Keystone Heights Mayor Karen Lake, who also works as a student affairs specialist with Sante Fe College, said the happiness of students’ family members made the house calls worth it.

“This is all about spreading good vibes,” Lake said.

Sanders said she wanted to change the perception that a visit from a school administrator was a bad thing.

“I think that people aren’t expecting a house call to be a positive thing first of all,” Sanders said. “I think we threw some people off a little. They thought, ‘Wait, it’s a good thing?’”


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