Leading by example

Conway High School junior Kylee French is committed to exceptional students, and she leads by example.
The 16-year-old surrounds herself with the giving and the hopeful through student-led organizations like Conway’s Caring Cats, which does a number of goodwill activities throughout the year. Kylee presides over Best Buddies, a national effort that pairs general population students with those with special needs at the high school level. Caring Cats is its umbrella school organization.
“I’ve always had a heart for special needs kids,” Kylee says. “I’m in charge of pairing up buddies, who are paired basically to be best friends. We go to movies together, get our nails done … but the main thing is inclusion.”
Kylee was tapped to lead the group in its first year because of her willingness to do good works, but also her attention to detail, organization and her seemingly natural way with people.
Caring Cats director Cheryl Daniels says Kylee is a teen who certainly stands out.
“She is unbelievable. If we had a world full of Kylees, it would be unbelievable, too,” she said. “What sets her apart, I think, is that she sees our special kids as people who have as much to give as anyone, if not more. She’s someone everybody looks up to.”
Until her experiences over the last year, Kylee admitted she wanted to be a meteorologist. It was something she was passionate about — until she found her calling with special needs students.
“I want to be a special education major,” she says. “When I [volunteer with them] and see their faces light up and the joy in their hearts, I realize God had this calling for me. And I can’t thank him enough. Giving someone hope is the best.”
Kylee remembers the first time her heart was pricked with this purpose.
“I remember this girl, she moved away, but she was sitting in the hallway at school looking so down. I asked her how she was doing, and she said ‘people don’t like me.’ That broke my heart to pieces, and I realized not many [special needs] students get the opportunity to be included. I have spoken to many of their parents through Best Buddies, and they are very protective, just like my parents are of me. But the students — they want friends and they want that love. It’s about everyone becoming involved.”
To date, there are 30 Best Buddy pairings Kylee has helped orchestrate. The program is so popular among high schoolers, she is looking to expand to junior high schools in the coming year. Conway Schools is one of just a handful of public schools in the state that have implemented the program.
“The kids love her. The parents love her. She just has such a caring and kind spirit, and I think other kids want to be thought of like her,” Cheryl says. “She has high moral values, but she’s not preachy. She’s fun and funny, down to earth and human.”
During a recent Christmas party for Best Buddies and their families, Kylee spoke to parents, evoking that sentiment.
“Sometimes parents are unsure of a high school girl assuring them their children are safe and loved and they think, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ but I spoke to them and told them that I love [their children] dearly. Some parents are immediately like, ‘This is awesome!’ But no matter what, I do my best to be responsible and encourage them, nothing negative.”
Kylee is a member of the Conway High School volleyball team, a member of Delta Beta Sigma sorority and involved in her church and KLIFE activities. She is the daughter of Ericka and Bobby French and has two younger brothers, Logan, 13, and Lucas, 15.
For her peers looking for purpose, Kylee says giving hope is the easiest and most fulfilling way to accomplish that.
“If you see kids in the hall, you don’t know their story,” she says. “Something little could change somebody and can change you, too.”