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KCSD Superintendent Spotlights Shyla Rajavong

A photo of Shyla Rajavong

Like all Kennett Middle School (KMS) students in Mr. Steve Finegan’s World Culture classes, Shyla Rajavong connects classroom learning to current events by reading articles from Junior Scholastic’s Magazine. Flipping through the pages of the December issue, Rajavong found special inspiration– an invitation to compete in their Eyewitness to History contest.

The sixth grader’s chronicle of her uncle’s harrowing journey through the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia earned her the title of 2022 Grand Prize Winner.

“I’ve heard about the Khmer Rouge throughout my life from both sides of my family, but my uncle Mike Lim’s experiences especially. Most of his family died during the genocide,” began Rajavong.

Led by a man known as Pol Pot, the communist movement lasted from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979. “Pol Pot created the Khmer Rouge for power. If you did not work for the government, you could not live anymore,” she reflected. “Many died from being overworked or starved in camps. Everyone wanted to escape from the soldiers because they were being treated so badly.”

In the article, Rajavong’s uncle shares the story of how he survived and later searched for his family as a teenager. That journey brought him here to happiness in the U.S.

“After the Cambodian people were freed, my uncle wanted to join the Vietnamese Army to kill Pol Pot, who was still alive, for revenge. But his aunt convinced him not to. She said if he did this, the violence would never end,” shared Rajavong.

When writing this article, Rajavong says her first aim was to create awareness. “Many people don’t know about the Khmer Rouge. I wanted to get the word out there about the people, like my uncle, who lived through it.”

However, the aspiring author and artist also learned other lessons. “I think everyone should be grateful for what they have– like food and shelter. Many people under the Khmer Rouge did not have those things.”

For her storytelling skills, Rajavong will receive a monetary reward.

“When I found out I won, I started jumping up and down. I was just really happy!” She plans to celebrate by buying some new books and honoring her Cambodian culture. “We go to my uncle’s house a lot and my aunt makes really good food,” she said. “I think we’ll eat. Southeast Asian food can look weird, but it is so good!”

At Kennett Middle School, there isn’t a single subject that Rajavong doesn’t like. In the future, she plans to explore her many interests.

“This is such a powerful piece and an example of why Shyla is an outstanding student,” noted Finegan. “I hope she realizes all of her dreams and continues to be very successful.”

For those interested in learning more, Rajavong’s article hit newsstands in the May 2022 issue of Junior Scholastic.

  • Kennett Middle School