For University of Mary Washington alumna Sarah Ritchie ’14, everything starts with kindness.
As a counselor at King George Elementary School, she envisioned a kindness club, recruited student ambassadors and invited global guest speakers who inspire others. She figured that with each individual she could reach, the kindness campaign would grow in the school and in the community.
Project KIND (Kids Inspiring and Nurturing Development) now spans King George County Schools as a comprehensive character education program teaching skills that will help students succeed in school and in life. A hub for student services, after-school clubs, and the snack and food program, it promotes helpful and healthy connections with teachers, students and families. And it’s earning statewide attention.
In 2023, Ritchie was recognized as the division-wide Teacher of the Year from King George County and named Elementary School Counselor of the Year by the Virginia School Counselor Association (VSCA). The annual award recognizes an elementary or secondary school counselor who has made a positive impact in their school community.
“The Kindness Crew has a positive presence in the community, even being established for only a few years,” Ritchie said of the after-school group she runs in a recent article about the power of high fives. “The development of the Kindness Crew has allowed a strong school-wide and community relationship to bloom. I have been honored to start and lead the club, and this has been one of the proudest moments of my professional career.”
Educators across the state can tap into Ritchie’s experience, as she’s developing a kindness club curriculum and working on outreach to adults and kids, while advocating for the profession. During the second week of February 2024, she’ll lead Virginia Kindness Week through the Virginia Department of Education.
Ritchie has balanced her career with education, earning a bachelor’s in liberal studies (BLS) degree, with a major in leadership and management, from the University of Mary Washington in 2014 after an associate degree in communications and media art from Lakeland Community College. As a BLS student, she took evening classes across a variety of subjects, so she could continue working, and now advanced in her career, she stays connected with classmates.
“It’s those small work groups that have stuck together,” she said. “The students I connected with now span the globe, but we are still there for one another.”
At the time, she didn’t know where her degree would lead, and she credits the array of skill sets developed through liberal studies for shaping her pathway and giving her a platform from which to launch, near or far. She found her fit helping King George County students of all ages discover their career choices and published a recent article on career discovery that asked the quintessential question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
She’s also finishing a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision from Liberty University, where she earned an M.Ed. in school counseling, behavioral sciences. In addition, she’s a division Social Emotional Learning coordinator, kindness curriculum writer and conference speaker on the power of kindness. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) and has served years as communications and public relations chair for the VSCA and is now a member of the board of directors and committee liaison.
“As a school counselor, she brings a deep understanding of the mental health issues affecting our community and a wealth of knowledge about needs and resources,” said RACSB in a news story.
Ritchie’s work as a school counselor in King George spans nearly a decade.
“While her résumé lists many ‘typical’ counseling activities, Sarah’s impact has been anything but typical,” wrote Mary Fisher, supervisor of student and family services for King George County Schools, in a letter recommending Ritchie for the counselor of the year award. “It is difficult to put into words the impact Sarah has had on our school community, but her commitment to school counseling has helped create an undeniable shift in culture and climate in her school.”
Like the Kindness Crew that she leads, her focus continues to be on growing self-esteem, building morale and giving back to the community, and it’s catching on.