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2-29-24 — Students, Staff and Community Come Together for Second Annual Celebration of Black Excellence

Feb. 29, 2024 ~ On Feb. 24, students, staff and community members gathered at Eagles Landing at Lake Olathe for the second annual Celebration of Black Excellence. The event was hosted by the Olathe Public Schools Department of Culture and Belonging, our staff Black Educators Affinity Group (BEAG) and each high school’s Black Student Union (BSU). The theme of the evening was “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Inspiring the Future.”

“This theme is meant to bring together the three layers of our community – students, staff, and community members,” Director of Culture and Belonging Kathleen Smith said. “This night recognizes the members of our Black community that have established a positive legacy of representing, sustaining, and building up our community here in Olathe.”

The celebration honored academic success, BSU seniors, classified and certified staff, administrators, and the community members that support student leadership opportunities. Damon Bell, a Safety Specialist and football coach at Olathe South High School, was given the School and Community Partner Award. His work has allowed growth and comfortability with the school resource officers that serve our students. Recently, Bell and his wife started a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) program at Olathe South to take BSU students on HBCU campus tours, giving them a chance to appreciate the history and accomplishments of their culture.

“I am so humble and grateful to have received such an amazing award,” Bell said. “I do what I do because I truly enjoy working with the students and volunteering in the community, and I hope that I make a difference in people's lives.”

Kicking off the awards, 10 eighth-grade students (one from each middle school) received the Academic Achievement Award for their work in school. They are Elizabeth Gilmore, Mission Trail; Andre C. Woolfolk, Prairie Trail; Waluwae Abate, California Trail; Tiana Kinsella, Frontier Trail; Sanaa J. Woodberry, Summit Trail; Ariyana J. Courtney, Indian Trail; Ashley Enow, Chisholm Trail; Krysta N. Fletcher, Oregon Trail; Malik Njuguna, Santa Fe Trail; Brooklyn Johnson, Pioneer Trail.

Each high school had their BSU seniors in attendance. All of them received a framed certificate and a BSU graduation cord for their time and efforts. Five high school students, one from each high school, were also recognized for their academic achievements by GPA and class ranking. They are Woudassie Belay, Olathe East; Salem Tesfaye, Olathe North; Bethel Yigezu, Olathe South; Emma Kilpatrick, Olathe Northwest; Sherron Woodberry, Olathe West. 

The Classified Staff Award was given to Crystal Greer, who worked as a paraeducator and data operator for Special Services in her years with the district. The Certified Staff Award was given to Olathe West biology teacher Janelle Craig and Clearwater Creek Elementary teacher Shannon Reese. Central Elementary School Principal Brandi Leggett received the Administration Award.

As the evening wrapped up, students and staff alike left feeling celebrated for who they are and inspired to continue to honor the past, celebrate the present and inspire the future.