BELL COUNTY, Ky. — The staff and students at Bell Central School Center north of Middlesboro, Kentucky, have a lot to be proud of this school year. The middle school students earned the second-highest score in Kentucky on the statewide KPREP exams in October.
Principal Jennifer Blankenship credits the schools culture for its academic success. She said she is most proud of how that culture has helped the school with the deaths of three children in a house fire, in addition to other heartbreaking situations.
"This, unfortunately, is the second time in five weeks we've had to have a memorial," said Blankenship. "In the beginning of December, our eighth grade student Bela Martinez died after having a seizure. Now we have a memorial set up for Sierra, Cynthia, and Shawn Posey. I hate that we already know what to do for the memorial. I hate that our students have to understand what it is and what it means."
Blankenship said there was a feeling of numbness Wednesday, one day after a house fire killed 12-year-old Sierra Posey, her 10-year-old sister Cynthia, 8-year-old brother Shawn, and 59-year-old grandmother Beulah Mullins.
"To know Sierra and Cynthia and Shawn was to know love. They were very close. Cynthia was a little spitfire. We loved her. Sierra was very quiet. She didn't have to be in the limelight. And Shawn, my favorite thing about him is he was so short on the bus he couldn't see over the seats. So he was constantly sitting on his knees to see over the seats. I would have to tell him to sit on his bottom. They are all great kids," smiled Blankenship.
The superintendent and faculty set up a memorial in the lobby with photos of the three children, flowers, and a box for students to place notes and drawings to console the Posey family. The photos and flowers will be donated for use at the funeral when arrangements are set.
Around 500 students attend Bell Central for preschool through eighth grade. Blankenship said all the students are told they are loved.
"We always want our students to know we love them, we support them, and we have their back. I tell them that every morning on the intercom announcements. I want people to see how strong our students are. Our students are here for us. You think, as adults, we're here for kids and we help kids. These kids help me more than I could ever help them," said Blankenship.
Blankenship says it's been a year of academic highs and personal lows. In addition to the deaths of four students, the school has raised money for a student battling life-threatening leukemia. But the challenges have shown the character that makes her proud.
"When Bela died, we had four middle school girls who were on homecoming court who all said they wanted the crown to go to Bela. These are middle school girls. We ended up giving a crown to Bela and then to all four of the girls," said Blankenship.
Whatever challenges the school faces the rest of this year and in the future, Blankenship said it will be in an environment of learning and love.
"We are all about learning. But there are life lessons that have to be taught. And what better place to teach life lessons than with people who love you, support you, and are going to have your back?"