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Baggs Elementary School Principal Chanda Rowley, right, reacts after being handed a check by Compassionate Cheyenne volunteer Loretta Barker after her school won the first-ever Compassion-in-the-Schools award on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The news about the racist flyers found at McCormick Junior High nearly one year ago hit the Cheyenne and Laramie County School District 1 communities hard.

With the news that followed about bullying in the district, everything felt so negative. It doesn’t help that school shootings have become a regular part of the news cycle. Sending your child off to school could mean a full day of anxiety.

But the members of Compassionate Cheyenne knew better. That’s why they do what they do; they believe in the good of people and are out to recognize that whenever they can.

While they have the Compassion-in-Action award, they wanted to create something new, a celebration of local schools and the amazing things that happen in them every single day.

So to end the school year, the organization has created and awarded the first-ever Compassion-in-the-Schools award. It acts as a recognition for teachers, students, school staff or administrators who are helping to instill compassion, thoughtfulness, caring or kindness in students.

Baggs Elementary has received the first of the awards, which came with a certificate and a $100 gift, which are donated by the Sunrise Rotary Club and RBC Wealth Management.

“Our youth are so important, and their experiences in school are so critical,” said Loretta Barker, one of the Compassionate Cheyenne members and one of the forces behind the creation of the award. “Instead of focusing on the negative, we need to focus on what’s right.”

Barker was delighted that Baggs was the first award recipient, as she believed they were a great example of what the award stood for.

The school was nominated by Mike Black, a substitute teacher in Laramie County School District 1. In his nomination letter, Black praised the school for its teaching, custodial and administrative staff for their hard work and dedication to helping students achieve their goals.

“The opportunity to view the school as a long-term resource room teacher has given me access to see the teaching of young minds in kindergarten through sixth grade,” he wrote. “I think Baggs is a wonderful example of the way schools can influence and create a society we can all be proud to be a part of.”

The Compassionate Cheyenne board received about five nominations, but felt that Black’s passionate nomination was worth a closer look. Barker and some of the other board members went to the school for observations, and Barker was blown away by the school’s dedication to making the students feel safe and included.

“Their differences were accepted with kindness,” she said. “When a child succeeded, they all celebrated. When one needed extra help or correction, the students were kind and encouraging.”

She admitted it was a remarkable experience for her and the board members, so they wanted to celebrate the Baggs staff, students and teachers’ work to build such a great team together.

As for future nominations, people are always welcome to submit them via email. The nomination can be about anyone at any school making a difference in their community. All letters should be 150 words or less, and include the name, address and phone number of both the nominator and nominee. Nominations can be sent to the review team at compassionatecheyenne@gmail.com.

Barker wasn’t totally sure how often the award will be given, since it’s so new and will depend on how many nomination letters they receive in the future.

“We want to share these stories,” Barker said. “I know that when I hear a story about someone’s act of kindness, it inspires me. It inspires others. I think sometimes we get so busy and don’t notice these things, so this is a way to say ‘thank you.’”

Ellen Fike is a freelance writer living in Cheyenne. She can be reached at elfylucille@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EllenLFike.

Ellen Fike is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at efike@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter @EllenLFike

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