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A shocking, senseless tragedy shook an entire school to its core. But students and teachers turned this terrible act into a lasting tribute that’s now helping to prevent such violence

By E. Thomas Hall

Lindsay Ann Burke is forever smiling on her website. She’s described as “the girl next door” who knew all the neighbors on her suburban Rhode Island street. She grew up to be a substitute teacher and work for a company that serves people with disabilities. In short, she could have been any of us.

Web Resources

  • The nonprofit Lindsay Ann Burke
    Memorial Fund seeks to end relationship violence through education. For details and resources, go to: http://labmf.org/
  • Lindsay Ann Burke memorial site: www.lindsayannburke.com/
  • For more information, visit the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline — www.loveisrespect.org — and the National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.ndvh.org
  • For a video tribute to Lindsay Ann Burke, click here

Sadly, horribly, Burke’s life was taken in September 2005 by a man she had dated for two years. In case you’re thinking such tragedies only happen to other people, consider these facts from the site dedicated to her memory:

  • One in three teen-agers experience some kind of abuse in romantic relationships

  • One in five high school girls is physically hurt by a dating partner

  • The highest rate of intimate partner violence is experienced between the ages of 16 and 24

Flanked by fellow SkillsUSA members, Ted Jackvony speaks before a subcommittee of his state General Assembly. The students supported legislation to mandate the teaching of relationship violence prevention. With him are students Jenny Diaz, Stephanie Feuti and Cassandra Barlow.

As Chris Burke, father of the 23-year- old, was quoted, “She was a caring, compassionate woman, and that made her the perfect victim. She had a hard time believing she was being manipulated.”

“The jealously, aggressive behavior, not letting you spend enough time with friends or taking you away from family — I’ve had boyfriends like that,” said Cassandra Barlow, a senior at Davies Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, R.I., where Chris Burke is a culinary teacher. “My friends and I see it all the time, but we never thought about it before.”

The death rocked the entire school community at Davies, according to Gerald Suggs, the lead SkillsUSA advisor there. In response, all faculty and staff were taught to recognize signs of violence in teen dating. Students created a skit to dramatize these inherent dangers. For Domestic Violence Protection Month, the athletic department sold T-shirts. Sophomores created bracelets. Precision machining students made “Stop Domestic Violence” key chains.

When the Burke family started a statewide education effort on the dangers of teen dating and relationship violence, students and teachers pitched in. Students created different workshops and programs to raise awareness — and money.

“We teach about bullying and sexual harassment in schools. Now the same needs to be done to teach about teen dating violence and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. It is as important, if not more important, than any of the other topics we teach in health class,” Lindsay’s mother Ann, a health teacher herself, said at the time.

“What started as a school community service project, then evolved into a ‘hands-on’ leadership activity, has become both a statewide and national effort to support the mission of ending relationship violence through education.”
—Gerald Suggs, SkillsUSA advisor, Lincoln, R.I.

The family created the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund to offer the state’s health instructors workshops on how to teach students about the issue. A bill was introduced to mandate the teaching of dating violence prevention in grades 7-12, but the family was cautioned not to expect it to pass in a single legislative year.

Undaunted, students at the school — chosen by the state attorney general as the locale from which to announce the legislation in April 2007— were in the forefront of testifying in its support. Speaking before both houses of the state’s general assembly “was a major challenge yet a wonderful opportunity for SkillsUSA students,” advisor Suggs said.

The Davies chapter enlisted the backing of all SkillsUSA members in the state and worked as part of the coalition of organizations to get the bill passed into law.

With a fashion show, SkillsUSA members at Davies raised $2,000 for the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund. The state attorney general attended to present the check to the family.

“We spent a lot of time lobbying our state legislators and getting this through, and with kids by emailing other kids around the state to get them to contact their legislators,” Suggs added. “But it was an interesting project, helping kids to know about the government, civic awareness and how things function. And sitting at the state house and waiting to speak before a committee, there was a lesson in ‘hurry up and wait,’ how government functions. It was well worth it. It was a good project to see come to fruition.”

In June, the Lindsay Ann Burke Act cleared both legislative bodies with identical wording, without needing to be ironed out by committee, and became state law “in what could only be considered an amazing legislative triumph,” Suggs said.

Helping stop violence, nationwide

Still, the work had only just begun. One of the act’s major provisions was that it wouldn’t cost local school departments anything extra, so the Burke family vowed to raise the money to provide all the training and curriculum materials.

Davies students, led by state SkillsUSA President Mariama Kurbally, sponsored and organized fashion shows and other events to raise funds. The local Aeropostale store loaned clothing for the latest show, where the state attorney general, Patrick Lynch, presented the $2,000 collected to the Burkes.

“Not only did we enjoy the show, but we were touched by everyone’s dedication to the mission of spreading dating violence education in our schools. We are grateful to be surrounded by so many caring and supportive people,” the family wrote.

The Burke’s foundation has no paid administrative staff and relies on private donations, which are tax exempt. While continuing to run workshops for parents and teachers, Chris and Ann Burke have spoken at the annual Liz Claiborne “Love is Not Abuse” forum in New York City and presented at a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. In December, they participated in a scientific workshop on teen dating violence, jointly sponsored by the U.S. departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, in Washington.

Now the SkillsUSA members at Davies are ambassadors to other schools on the issue of dating and relationship violence. The Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund provides resources on its website — http://labmf.org/ — for health teachers as well as the public.

A recent fund-raiser for the foundation, a dinner and dance at the Atlantic Beach Club in Newport, had the theme, “Imagine: A World Without Relationship Violence.” On the website created by those who knew and loved Lindsay, www.lindsayannburke.com, John Lennon’s “Imagine” plays softly.

But according to the fund site, only a third of teen-agers who have been in or known about an abusive dating relationship report having told anyone about it.

Imagine. And make it happen.

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SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2008 | Volume 42, No. 3
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