Charlie Foster

Me, My Son, and Stress


BabyMalSixteen years ago, I left the hospital with a brand new baby boy. I remember thinking, as my husband was trying to fit the car seat into the car, “Seriously? They are going to just let us take him home without teaching us all the things we need to be doing to ensure he is safe and happy?”  As someone who had spent many years sitting in a classroom being taught and prepared for a career, it was mind-blowing that there was so little teaching and preparation for the most important job ever.

Sixteen years later, there are parenting moments when I’m just as unsure and scared as I was then. In many ways, I find parenting a high-schooler more stressful than parenting that infant. 


When it comes to high school, stress is ever-present. I just finished my sophomore year, and I can remember kids in my AP World History class breaking down and crying before the test, afraid of failing. These kids were in a bad place mentally due to the work that all their classes had put on them. Whether it was studying for End of Course exams, Finals, or the AP Exam, kids had plenty on their plate, and couldn’t handle it all.

I dealt with stress a lot this past year. Having a full honors class load, Jazz Band, and AP World History didn’t leave a lot of free time. I even had to get a tutor during the school year for the first time in my life. I spent some of my time just lying in bed thinking about all the things I had to do in such a little time.


It is a continual struggle to figure out what I need to do to ensure that the young man in my care is safe and happy. Parenting a sixteen-year-old is a constant balancing act—how much assistance is just enough, how much is too much, when do I need to ensure his success and when do I need to let him fail?


Malcolm_With_MicI feel like there are a few ways that parents can help with their child’s stress. My parents helped me by discussing my classes with me, getting me a tutor, and being supportive of me at all times. Without these things I feel like I wouldn’t have had the success through the past year of high school that I did. Parents need to understand that even though their high school students are young adults, they alone can’t exactly handle everything required.

Whether it was helping me organize my papers, going over every day’s work with me, or just helping me with my schoolwork, my parents always found the time to support me, and help me through the stress I was experiencing.


During this past year, Malcolm, my husband, and I found our balance through talking and shared decision-making. We determined which decisions Malcolm would make with our input and which we as the parents would make with his input.  It was wonderful to watch Malcolm succeed with his choices. It was tough for me to give up authority and see Malcolm make decisions that I thought weren’t the wisest. But, I was proud to see his growth when he dealt with the consequences of the choices that he made.


In conclusion I would like to say that the number one way that parents can help their child through stress is by being there for them. By supporting them and offering help, you can make high school as a whole lot easier for your kids.

Arts-based Community Development Investment for Promise Zone

The Kentucky Promise Zone one of 69 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town projects selected nationwide


BEREA, Ky. – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 69 Our Town awards totaling almost $5 million through the Our Town program’s fifth year of funding.  Partners for Education at Berea College is one of those recommended organizations and will receive $100,000 to preserve the arts and cultural heritage of Appalachia by cataloguing arts and artists in the Kentucky Promise Zone. The NEA received 275 applications for Our Town this year and will make grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000.

The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. Since the program’s inception in 2011 and including these projects, the NEA will have awarded 325 Our Town grants totaling almost $26 million in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

“Creative Asset Mapping in the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone,” brings together seven county governments, Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, and Whitley, and Berea College, a non-profit with significant arts experience. The project will map Promise Zone arts and artists based on research and best practices gained from other rural communities. Within the Promise Zone, the arts are a key opportunity for economic diversification. Creative Asset Mapping is the first step in the Promise Zone exploration of the arts as a strategy for positively impacting the livability within the Promise Zone.

Other partners include the Kentucky Arts Council, Arts Incubator of the Rockies (AIR), and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, the Promise Zone lead agent.

“Creative Asset Mapping in the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone demonstrates the best in creative community development and the work will have a valuable impact on its community,” said Chairman Chu. “Through Our Town funding, arts organizations continue to spark vitality that support neighborhoods and public spaces, enhancing a sense of place for residents and visitors alike.”

Donna Morgan, director of Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College, says the selection of the Kentucky Promise Zone can both help preserve arts and culture in Appalachia and provide an avenue for community development. “Creative and arts businesses can form an important sector in our region’s economy, whether it be through traditional arts and crafts, design, digital media, culinary arts, or other fields that employ a creative workforce,” she said. “We are so pleased to be able to begin the planning of this project, and we are even more excited to start the work of putting our artists and their creativity on the map.”

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at Project descriptions, grants listed by state and by project type, and resources are available as well. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.

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Corporation for National & Community Service CEO Visits Berea


Corporation for National and Community Service Chief Executive Officer Wendy Spencer visited Partners for Education at Berea College Wednesday to learn first-hand how CNCS programs are working to help Appalachian Kentucky youth succeed in school. Representatives from AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA programs administered by Berea College introduced themselves to Spencer and talked about how the programs serve their communities. Representatives from partnering organizations, like Save the Children, Grow Appalachia, and Knox, Leslie, and Madison County Schools also spoke with Spencer about the difference the programs are making in thousands of lives.

05_Group_ShotWhen she had heard from everyone, Spencer told attendees about a recent CNCS study that found that service and volunteering can have on employment, that job applicants who have service or volunteering experiences are significantly more like to find a job after being out of work, 55% more likely in rural areas. “There is a direct correlation now that we can prove scientifically, that it’s going to help you personally,” she said. “That’s not to mention that it would mean more hands and hearts in our communities helping people in need.”

Spencer closed by thanking everyone for their comments and for doing the work they do. “I’m really inspired today to hear the connection that you’ve applied, for national service and volunteerism, to your own communities and how you’re lifting it up.”

For more information about CNCS, visit them here. To see more photos from the visit, check out the image gallery here.

Introducing Malcolm, College Student to Be

MalcolmMediumI’m Malcolm. I’m a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. I recently began visiting colleges and college is something that I look forward to greatly. I am participating in this blog and sharing my journey as I visit and apply to colleges to help other people aid teenagers in their search for college success.

I live in Berea, Kentucky. I am a biracial African American/Caucasian teenager. In rural Kentucky, we have very little people of color, and a very large amount of poverty. This mixture creates an unsafe city for schoolchildren, and many children from 6th-12th grades are involved in underage drinking, smoking, or drug use. One of the biggest problems in Kentucky is that of Methamphetamine, and Prescription Drugs. As you know, where there are drugs, there are problems. Fights, Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Theft, and many other things endanger the bright young ones of our city.

I believe that the only things that saved me from the same fate as some of my peers were my parents. My mother, Dreama, is from rural Kentucky, and grew up with her parents. She saw many in her community lost to prescription drugs and meth, and made sure to protect me from that. My father, Hasan Davis, grew up completely differently than my mother. He was born in Missouri, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia after his parents were divorced. He lived with his Mother, Stepfather, two sisters, and a brother. At times they were homeless, such as after their house burned down on Christmas. He lost friends and family to violence, drugs, and crime. He vowed to make my life better than his, and has protected me from this.

I believe that we can make the rural areas safer for children, and families. In Kentucky, the High School Graduation Rate for all students was 87% and the rate for African Americans was 80%. Regardless of race, simply not enough students are graduating high school and going to college. This is my Inspiration, to change this, and allow more students to see their potential, and see their futures.

Berea President Part of White House College-Access Event



Check out this story in the Richmond Register about Berea College President Lyle Roelofs representing Berea and Partners for Education at the White House College Opportunity Day of Action!


President Roelofs was also accompanied at the summit by Knox County Schools Superintendent Kelly Sprinkles.  Knox County Schools are home to Partners for Education programs like GEAR UP, Full Service Community Schools, and PartnerCorps: School Turnaround.


To find out more about the event, the official White House blog has a write-up with links to all the speakers’ remarks.

Partner Schools Gather to Launch New GEAR UP Program

01_GroupBEREA, KY—Superintendents and representatives from 14 school districts met with Partners for Education staff and Berea College President Dr. Lyle Roelofs at historic Boone Tavern today to celebrate the launch of the newest GEAR UP program at Berea College. The recently awarded grant expands Partners for Education’s service region to include Barbourville Independent, Casey County, Clinton County, Cumberland County, East Bernstadt Independent, Harlan County, Jenkins Independent, Letcher County, Lincoln County, McCreary, Middlesboro Independent, Somerset Independent, Wayne County, and Whitley County school districts.

03_Lyle_DreamaRoelofs provided an overview of Berea College’s history and mission, highlighting the institution’s commit to the region. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the positive effect GEAR UP will have in your district,” Roelofs said. “The students and families that benefit by our work will have a long term impact: every time you change the opportunities of one student, you are affecting an entire family. We have many cases of that.  Any of that that happens is great news for Kentucky, great news for the region, for our 8th commitment to Appalachia, and for that, we’re very proud to collaborate with you through the work of our fine Partners staff.”

02_Dreama_LyleDreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education, said she was excited to collaborate with the 14 school districts. “We are happy to do this work in these new counties and in these new schools,” she said. “I was once a student from the region, so I am just like these Appalachian youth, and we want to see all Appalachian youth succeed in school.”

Partners for Education will receive $5.5 million annually for the next 7 years from the new GEAR UP grant. The funds enable Partners for Education and their extensive network of strategic partners to provide services to nearly 7,000 students, their parents, and schools. To learn more about Partners for Education’s programs and services, visit:

Chat and Chew with Jenny Ceesay

Jenny Ceesay, associate director of college access, discussed and demonstrated how to use four free online resources that can be used to benefit K-12 and even college students.

Khan Academy: “We’re on a mission to unlock the world’s potential. Most people think their intelligence

is fixed. The science says it’s not. It starts with knowing you can learn anything.” Khan Academy

has recently made available college access resources and has a new partnership with the

College Board to provide free SAT prep to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Get Schooled: Get Schooled is a national non-profit founded on the belief that students have the

power to improve their future if given the right information and motivation. To do this, Get

Schooled uses the messengers (celebrities, powerful peers, pop culture events) and the means

(mobile/SMS, social, web) that youth turn to.

Ever Financial Literacy: EverFi focuses on teaching, assessing, and certifying students in the

critical skills that real life demands. Their digital course areas include financial literacy, student loan

management, digital citizenship, civic awareness, entrepreneurial thinking, alcohol and substance

abuse, and sexual assault prevention. (must have login from school)

Wells Fargo Hands on Banking: “The Hands on Banking online financial courses include free

instructor guides with classroom lessons and activities that will help you guide students through

real-life scenarios, group discussions, and other activities designed to teach valuable money management

skills and help them take control of their finances.”

Chat and Chew--Jenny Ceesay

Jackson County STEM Fair, Farm-to-School Showcase

Last month, GEAR UP and Promise Neighborhood staff at Jackson County High School hosted a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM Fair on their campus, at the same time as a Farm-to-School showcase!  Elementary school students from around the county came to see the stations and learn about tons of college and career options directly from students and community members from their own county!

Jackson County STEM Fair, Farm-to-School Showcase


An Interview with GEAR UP Alumni

In honor of National GEAR UP Month, we asked some of our very first GEAR UP participants, who got started in Berea College’s program way back in 1999, what GEAR UP means to them.  Beth Coleman and Harold Burdette were middle-schoolers when GEAR UP came to Rockcastle County. They then continued with our program until they graduated from high school.  Thanks so much to Beth and Harold for taking the time to tell us their stories!

What is something that you remember about your experience with GEAR-UP?


Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it, but I remember the very first “big” trip us “First Class” GEAR-UP students had to Chicago. I’m an only child and had to lobby a ton of family members to BEG my parents just to let me go to summer camp, so I had to use the same tactics to get my mom to let me go to Chicago.
My first trip to a major city outside KY, first trip away from my parents, it was a huge milestone. Even though it’s been a whopping 15 years since that trip, I can tell you everything still—how the GEAR-UP staff herded us through Lincoln Park like they were protecting baby ducks, every restaurant we ate at, how Andy instructed us not to pay people for free newspapers (my first introduction to The Onion)… But the part that really changed me for life was when we went to the Art Institute of Chicago. I had always been interested in art history since my time at Brodhead Elementary, where I did many projects on abstract and impressionist paintings. In particular, I was fascinated with Mary Cassatt—when I reached her exhibit at the Art Institute, I honestly cried. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but the moment stuck. As I grew up, I recognized that it was because I had never spent that much time thinking about my future. When I was a little kid looking at paintings in books, it never occurred to me that I might be able to go see them one day. It never really occurred to me the possibilities that were out there for where I could go and what I could do with my life. It was really the beginning for me, and I’ve tried ever since to repay GEAR-UP and Berea College for giving me that.


When reflecting on my time spent as an active GEAR UP participant, I cannot be more thankful for the collection of skills and knowledge I received from the program. Although college preparation was always the key focus of GEAR UP events, I also learned and perfected many other skills that also prepared me for the real world in general. For example, “Resume Composition and Critique” was particularly helpful for participants like me hoping to get a part-time job. We received etiquette training and knowledge of basic interview do’s and don’t’s. In my experience, there were countless opportunities for me to better understand effective leadership and team-building, and these techniques most certainly were employed in my college work-study position as a program manager for the Bonner Scholars program. GEAR UP not only prepared me for college; GEAR UP prepared me for life.

What does it mean to you to be a GEAR-UP alum?


There are a lot of students that GEAR-UP assists, a lot who have been touched over the years by their programs. Maybe we’re all alums. To me though, GEAR-UP was an experience that started back in 7th grade and has never really ended, not even after I graduated Berea. To be an alum, it means that you spent years learning about who you were as a person, a student, a young professional—and defining the skills that would allow you to both set goals, and then realize them. It’s not about field trips and sponsorships, it’s about evolving attitudes and skill development from a very young age, so that you can find a place in your local and global community. Also, when I say “First Class” GEAR-UP students, I just mean the “original” pilot program set, or myself and friends like Harold from RCMS (Rockcastle Middle School).


Without GEAR UP, my adult life would likely look completely different. I probably would not have gone to college without having gained what I did from GEAR UP. If I did go, it probably would not have been straight out of high school, and definitely would not have been the best-fit college. The GEAR UP staff were the people I looked to for support, because post-secondary education had never been a strong value where I come from. This program really gave me my first paycheck; I was a mentor to younger students for a couple weeks one summer enrolling at my high school, and the program paid me for my time. It was this experience that helped me realize how much I enjoyed connecting with people younger than me, that I could offer insightful guidance to those who have yet to experience what I had been through. During college, I continued in my efforts to help young folks in one way or another in my work-study positions. I graduated and went on to work for TRIO program Educational Talent Search in eastern Tennessee. College access and success is a field I have spent working the last five years, and I am thankful that I learned back then in high school about my ability to have a genuine connection with others,, and especially youth. This is the way I feel I am called to impact change in the world. To be a GEAR UP alum is very precious to me, and I wish to continue making meaningful connections with youth, in the same way the GEAR UP staff supported me, every day indefinitely.

What are you doing now? Was GEAR-UP a part of getting you there? How?


For the last few years, I’ve worked on developing customer service materials for a credit union in DC. My career trail has involved work for both the government and non-profits; and I never thought that this is where I would be professionally—but it turns out having a degree in communication studies and a sense of southern hospitality has some unique applications. This isn’t my end goal though. At the core, I’m passionate about development in Appalachia, and also increasing civic literacy and service learning opportunities for public schools. If I can finance it, and if I can find an opening, I’d like to do some work in DC and also bring it home to Kentucky. GEAR-UP prepares students as individuals for college/careers, but I think there’s a need to bridge that and prepare them to be involved in their communities. If we can build a generation that is committed to completing college, we can build a generation that is committed to pulling their friends and families up with them.
I talk about my GEAR-UP experiences constantly. It’s always one of the first pieces of information anyone who meets me hears. Leadership development stuff, even personality tests like Myers-Briggs coursework, made a huge difference in helping me put a name to what I NEEDED when picking a college or picking an employer. I’m a Gold-Green-ENTJ-Orange Fruit-Owl who can recite all the “7 Habits of a Successful Person.” Do I need all those to go to college? No. Did it make a difference in articulating who I am and what I need from my environment? Absolutely.


The culture of east Nashville is very different than any other demographic I had worked with previously, which was mostly rural settings. I am entering my third year based at Stratford STEM Magnet High School. There is a non-profit agency, Martha O’Bryan Center, based in the project housing area of east Nashville that operates an after-school program on the second floor of Stratford High School called “Top Floor.” Students participate in enrichment services, such as photography class, art class, cooking, etc. or record an original rap song in a sound booth. They also receive homework help and tutoring. My role the first two years was to help seniors understand the best-fit college for them based on several criteria, namely GPA and ACT score, but also skills, extra-curricular activities, cost, distance from home, etc. (I was employed by a partnering non-profit agency, Oasis Center College Connection, which allowed me to work as a staff member of the College Room of Top Floor every day of the week.) Most seniors would not have a plan for the Fall post-graduation without the assistance from the College Room staff of Top Floor, and as you can imagine, many seniors left Stratford with no plan at all—no college enrollment, no job, no nothing!
Earlier this year, I left Oasis Center and accepted a position with Martha O’Bryan Center. I work for a work-readiness program called Chapter 2, which helps put low-income students lacking experience to work. Our funding is grant-based and started in April of this year. Of the 52 participants we enrolled, we placed 45 of them in summer jobs! (Three others were able to find employment on their own.) Now we are at the beginning of a new school year and enrolling more new participants. I am targeting those low-income students who aren’t interested in college or simply do not know what to do once they graduate. When enrolled, they will be paid to participate in occupational skills Training throughout the school year, which I will facilitate myself. Students will learn how to get a job on their own, how to keep that job, and what skills they offer. Each student will receive career guidance, and if by the end of the school year someone does not have a job, Chapter 2 will place them in a summer internship. Once this paid work experience is complete, we will help participants find a permanent placement or some type of certificate training program, apprenticeship, etc. For me, this is very rewarding work, because it gives me the chance to reach out to students who are wandering aimlessly without direction, which is exactly the person I was before GEAR UP helped me understand my path!

About the Program:

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is designed to increase the number of low-income who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Berea College received federal GEAR UP grants in 1999, 2005 and 2011.  To date, we have served more than 22,000 students and their families.

Dept. of Ed. Celebrates Berea College Upward Bound Alum

Chris Lipps, back row on the far right

Chris Lipps, back row on the far right

The U.S. Department of Education is celebrating 50 years of Federal TRIO programs this year, and today’s story highlights an alumnus from Berea College’s Upward Bound program!

“I was attending high school in Berea when I was approached by Upward Bound officials to attend this special program called “Berea College Upward Bound.”  In the two years I attended the Berea UB (1989-1990), I participated in so many activities and adventures that prepared me for my life.  That fact that I am legally blind with an eyesight of 0/2400 gave me little self-confidence, but learning technology, self-defense, social skills, and leadership gave me the courage and direction I needed.

Chris in 2013

Chris in 2013

 I am indebted to the Berea College Upward Bound Program with some of my favorite memories and life’s-lessons coming from this two-year adventure.  I am now a Christian children’s minister, graduate of Ashford University with a BA in Early Childhood Education and a MA in Organizational Management, and now I can say I am a Christian book author.  I use leadership skills every day to lead our newest generation and I am well respected among my friends and peers.  I am in charge of my church’s Sunday school department and in charge of seasonal events with high expectations of being my church organization’s Sectional Sunday school director.  In my book entitled ”In a Baby’s Eye,” I speak kindly and honorably about some of my experiences with UB and what I learned through this program.  Even after 24 years of being out of UB, I still communicate with former UB associates. ”

For more about the history of TRIO, go here.

To find out more about Berea College’s Upward Bound Math and Science program, go here.

Congratulations to Chris, a great representative of Berea and Upward Bound!



Programs in Charlotte, N.C., Newark, N.J., and Berea, Ky., showcase the best in summer learning for low-income students 

UBMS_Group_Summer_2014Baltimore—The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has announced the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, NJ LEEP and Berea College as recipients of the 2014 New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning Awards. The annual award recognizes summer programs demonstrating excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for low-income children and youth, as measured by NSLA’s Comprehensive Assessment of Summer Programs. Winning programs also demonstrate exemplary practices in overall programming, including supporting staff, schools, and other program partners in fulfilling shared goals. The three programs were chosen from 62 applicants for the 2014 awards.

“Our 2014 award winners exemplify the best in summer learning and the impact that high-quality summer learning opportunities can have on student success,” said Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “From rural communities to large urban cities, these programs are offering an engaging combination of rigorous academics and meaningful enrichment to students who otherwise might lack these important opportunities.”

Research has established that low-income students are disproportionately at risk to lose academic skills during the summer. While most children lose up to two months of math skills during summer breaks, lower-income children also lose two to three months of reading skills without practice. The cumulative effects of this “summer slide” contribute significantly to the achievement gap, yet only one-third of low-income families report having a child enrolled in a summer learning program. Excellence Award winning programs strive to curb these losses, but also employ other research-based practices to build 21st Century skills, confidence, parental engagement, and future aspirations.

At the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s Y Readers program, more than 500 first-, second- and third-graders who are reading below grade level participate in a reading-intensive program designed to help them get caught up over the summer. Last year the program was offered in three Charlotte, N.C.-area school districts for six weeks and a total of 192 hours of programming. The program has proved especially important in light of recently passed state legislation that requires districts to retain third graders who are not proficient in reading.

Y Readers is centered on a curriculum designed to build student’s literacy abilities, while still maintaining a fun, camp-like atmosphere. Students spend mornings participating in literacy-

focused activities, while afternoons are spent doing enrichments that often weave in the reading curriculum, like performing Reader’s Theater scripts or making masks of book characters.

Y Readers has made a tangible impact on students’ literacy: In 2013, students improved their reading level by an average of three months, and 86 percent of all students maintained or improved their reading skills. This successful model has already expanded to dozens of other Y locations and will continue to do so in 2015.

At NJ LEEP’s College Bound Summer Session, approximately 140 high school students participate each summer in a five-week program focused on building skills through law-related activities and college-focused instruction. On the campus of Seton Hall Law School, ninth-graders participate in a “Summer Law Institute,” learning about criminal law and trial process and participating in a mock trial competition. Rising tenth-graders work in paid internships at law firms and corporations such as Prudential Financial. Eleventh-grade students participate in SAT preparation, and twelfth-graders are guided through the college application process, while also completing a college-level western philosophy curriculum designed to ensure students learn essential study skills.

Participating students come from Newark and surrounding neighborhoods, where roughly half of students in the public school system have demonstrated high-school reading proficiency and only 38 percent of students have high-school math proficiency. The majority of NJ LEEP students come from low-income, minority families and the program strives to empower youth to succeed academically and gain admission to four-year colleges and universities.

One hundred percent of the students who have graduated from NJ LEEP’s college bound program have gone on to college, with students currently attending institutions such as Rutgers University, Georgetown University and Princeton University.

The Partners for Education at Berea College Upward Bound Math and Science program serves 60 high school students from low-income Appalachian families in Eastern Kentucky. For six weeks each summer, students stay in residence halls on Berea College’s campus, receive meals, take classes that include Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects, engage in ACT preparation, explore careers and take field trips to other colleges. In the evenings, students also have opportunities to take enriching classes typically unavailable at their local school, such as Islamic Language and Culture or Poetry through Print. For students who have completed twelfth grade, the program offers a chance to earn college credit through a first-year college-level research course taught by a Berea professor.

Fewer than 20 percent of local residents hold a bachelor’s degree, and the economic depression and rural isolation of the area limits students’ access to STEM opportunities. But through the Upward Bound Math and Science program, students have the chance to experience life on a college campus and undertake rigorous, fun STEM experiences like visiting a fossil bed and learning about archeology.

Youth who have participated in the program have enrolled in postsecondary institutions at a higher rate than Kentucky students. In 2013, 75 percent of students from the program went on to postsecondary education, compared to 63 percent of students statewide.

The National Summer Learning Association is the only national nonprofit exclusively focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities. NSLA recognizes and disseminates what works in summer learning, develops and delivers capacity-building offerings and convenes and empowers key actors to embrace summer learning as a solution for equity and excellence in education. For more information, visit


04_group_clapHigh school students and special guests dined together at Boone Tavern Thursday to celebrate six successful weeks of college and career readiness activities as part of Berea College’s Upward Bound Math and Science Center program.  Berea College President Lyle Roelofs addressed the high school students at their end-of-summer celebration banquet, telling them “You and I are the same,” citing his background in physics as proof of his passion for science education.  The 38 students, from Estill, Jackson, Lee, Madison, and Rockcastle counties, ranged from teenagers entering their second year of high school to students preparing to start college in the fall.  They all were chosen for the program because they showed aptitude for math and science.

01_PresidentBerea College has been home to the residential program since 1999. Upward Bound Math and Science requires that students tackle a rigorous curriculum of college-readiness activities while living in Berea College dormitories for six weeks.  The goal is to increase the rate at which participants’ graduate from high school attend college, and graduate from college.

02_at_tableElliott Board spoke to his fellow students at the banquet.  “This means a lot to me.  It was my escape,” he said.  “To become more studious in your ways, and to learn, and to learn about loving to learn.” He then asked the audience to envision getting their school schedules in the fall.  “We’re gonna be prepared.  That puts us more than just one giant leap ahead of all the other regular students.  We know more, we’ve been through more, and we have more,” he said.  “This program has done so much for me.” Board will be a freshman at Berea College in the fall.

06_speechOver the summer, five college professors and math and science professionals taught students, helped them conduct experiments, and accompanied them on scientific exploration trips. Students toured the University of Kentucky botanical gardens and met with engineering students, visited the Center for Disease Control and toured its Smithsonian Affiliate Museum.

15_smile_closeHolly Branscum, program director for Upward Bound Math and Science, was pleased with the progress students made. “A success—that is how I would describe the summer,” she said. “Part of being a successful college student is learning how to live in a residential setting with strangers, learning how to study and how to find the resources available.” But the students did not stop there, she observed. “Many found their voices and are now confident students.”

Upward Bound Math and Science Center is a federally-funded program implemented by Partners for Education at Berea College. Partners for Education uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky.  To learn more, visit http://partners.berea.eduUBMS_Group_Summer_2014


SOAR1FinPIKEVILLE, KY—Three AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTAs, from Berea College were thanked by members of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, at their Executive Committee meeting Monday. David Bellnier, Jeffrey Helton, and Marcus Plumlee of Berea College were thanked individually by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers for their commitment to serve eastern Kentucky for one year. The VISTAs were invited to attend the meeting to help the Corporation for National and Community Service to celebrate their announcement of a more than $1 million investment to engage 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to support the SOAR initiative to improve the economy and quality of life in Eastern Kentucky.

Gov. Beshear, co-chair of SOAR along with Rep. Rogers, said that he looked forward to the arrival of the VISTAs. “As Governor, I have seen first-hand the impact of AmeriCorps in meeting a variety of needs across our state,” he said. “We are grateful to the Corporation for National and Community Service for being one of the first agencies to come forward to support the SOAR initiative by providing a surge of human capital to strengthen Kentucky’s Appalachia region.”

SOAR2FinBellnier, who began his VISTA work in Eastern Kentucky in May, said service was important to him and his fellow VISTAs. “As a Berea graduate, I feel that service is a challenging way to find out what I’m capable of—to test my strengths and limits,” he said. “I hope that the work that I do as a VISTA, and the culture of service that entails, will shape the person I become professionally and personally.”

The VISTA program was founded in 1965 as a national service designed to fight poverty in America. Members serve for one year and receive a stipend and education award. To find out more, visit

SAOR6FinSOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improve the quality of life, and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky. To learn more, visit

Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs, including GEAR UP, i3 and the first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages $18 million annually to serve 15,000 young people and their families. To find out more, visit


Michelle_Obama_Julie_JentWASHINGTON, D.C.—A 2014 graduate from Jackson County High School was invited to the White House Monday to meet with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.  Julie Jent of McKee, Kentucky participated in a roundtable discussion with the First Lady as part of the Reach Higher Initiative.  The discussion, called “Beating the Odds: Student Voices,” included ten students from around the country. The students had the opportunity to share the significant challenges they faced, their paths to success despite the obstacles they had to overcome, and their recommendations for ensuring that other students can achieve.

“I had a life-changing experience today,” Jent said.  “I told Mrs. Obama how much of an impact it made for me to have a mentor, and that I think all students should have a mentor.”  The First Lady then asked Jent what her educational plans were and Jent shared that she will be attending Berea College in the fall. “She said she thought Berea College would be an excellent fit for me.”

In addition to her meeting with the First Lady, Jent participated in a discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan invited students to share their experiences and recommendations so that the Department of Education can better support all students to get them college and career ready.

14626461833_ae461ba12a_oPartners for Education at Berea College was invited to send a student to Washington because of the work they do to help Appalachian Kentucky students overcome odds and succeed in school.  Jent was chosen to represent Partners for Education because of her participation in multiple programs, like Upward Bound Math and Science Center, Families and Schools Together (FAST), and the Promise Neighborhood Youth Working Group.  “Julie’s success is a testament to the impact education programs can have on a young person.  Through our programs, Julie was provided with a mentor who connected her to opportunities to build the academic and leadership skills necessary for success in college and in life,” Gentry said.  “We are proud of Julie and look forward to seeing what the future holds for her. Our goal is that one day every student in Appalachian Kentucky will have a mentor to assist them in navigating the journey from high school to college to career.”

The Reach Higher initiative is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.  For more information, visit

Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs, including GEAR UP, i3 and the first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages $18 million annually to serve 15,000 young people and their families.

U.S. Secretary of Education Visits First Rural Promise Neighborhood

Sand Gap, Ky.- United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Sand Gap Elementary School in Jackson County, Kentucky, on November 1 to participate in a roundtable discussion on Berea College’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Panelists included students, teachers, parents and Promise Neighborhood staff. The discussion focused on educational challenges and successes in rural America.

The Berea College Promise Neighborhood, which includes Clay, Jackson, and Owsley counties, is the first rural Promise Neighborhood in the United States. A federally funded initiative that provides deep community support for youth in the service area, Promise Neighborhood works with the counties’ youth from ‘cradle to career’ to ensure that each student has access to high-quality learning experiences and becomes college and career ready. They also help families support their students and work with communities so that children have a safe and healthy place to live and learn.

Duncan said that he was pleased to see this Promise Neighborhood first hand. “I love the work that’s going on here in this community. I love the sense of ‘cradle to career,’ getting babies off to a good start, and adding rigor in the elementary and middle schools, and having high school students start to take advanced placement classes, then not just send students on to college, but track them to make sure they get the support they need,” he said. “So, we are thrilled to be invested very, very heavily in this community. Just to hear the conversation and see the passion makes you very, very hopeful.”

Duncan’s trip was part of a week-long tour of Kentucky and Ohio, where he highlighted the work of rural schools. Acknowledging that students in the region need more access to technology and college, Duncan said that Kentucky’s recent history is cause for optimism. “At every level, whether it’s investing in early childhood, whether it’s literally being the first state to implement Common Core, Kentucky’s done an amazing job of raising expectations and adding rigor,” he said. “I don’t think any state has done more to increase access to AP, advanced placement classes, and not just access—passing rates have doubled the past few years.”

Though there is still work to be done, Duncan had a message for Kentuckians. “Kentucky should be extraordinarily proud of the progress,” he said. “None of these things are easy. But thinking about ‘cradle to career’ and thinking holistically, thinking how schools partner with non-profits, social service agencies, the business community, faith-based institutions—everyone has to come together on behalf of children.”

To learn more about the Berea College Promise Neighborhood program, call 859.985.3857 or visit

College Info Road Show Bus Pays a Visit to Jackson County

For three days students from Jackson County Middle and High School climbed aboard the College Info Road Show school bus for information sessions on scholarships and preparing for college. The visit was part of an ongoing effort of Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership with Jackson County Schools.Mark Hoover is the College Info Road Show Coordinator for the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, or KHEAA. He paid the students of Jackson County a special visit to make sure they know about the scholarship opportunities available to all of them. “They have to realize that the decisions they make in the next five years are the most important decisions they will ever make in their lives,” he said. “So the earlier the better.”

The College Info Road Show bus travels to all 120 counties in Kentucky to talk to students about furthering their education and financial aid opportunities to help them do so. The bus is equipped with satellite Internet access and computer stations for each student so they can research all the college information they need.

While in Jackson County, Hoover met with groups of around ten students to discuss the importance of keeping a high grade point average, or GPA, and getting a good ACT score so they will receive scholarship money. Hoover wanted to emphasize the KEES scholarship in particular because it is available to every Kentucky high school student who attends an accredited institution and makes at least a 2.5 GPA. The higher GPA and ACT score a student has, the more money they receive, with the average being $1,200 per student.

Hoover made sure the students knew that scholarships are not only based on their GPA and ACT, although those are very important factors, but they can also be based on a demonstrated talent, whether that is academic, athletic, musical, or artistic talent. “I didn’t realize the ACT was connected to KHEAA in the first place. I just thought it had to do with grades and report cards,” said Benjamin Rose, an 8th-grader who has already had experience with taking the ACT. “The KHEAA bus encouraged me to try better in school, especially learning about the money.”

Brandy Elam agreed. “The event helped me learn about college and careers,” she said. Elam, an 8th grader at Jackson County Middle School, is interested in attending EKU and becoming a hair dresser.

The bus visit was organized by Loretta Rose, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for Jackson County, who believes that middle school is not too early to plan for after high school. “Students need to start planning for their future. It’s just like building a house. If you don’t have a good foundation, then once you start building the house it will collapse. If you don’t have a good foundation in your education, you can’t wait until your senior year,” she said. “You’re not going to have that background knowledge.”

The College Info Road Show has now moved on to its next stop, but it left behind many students who are committed to trying harder in school and attending college one day.

To find out more about KHEAA and the College Info Road Show bus, visit them online at To find out more about GEAR UP, call (859) 985-3857, or learn about us online at

Partners for Education and CMT Inspire Area Students and Families


More than 200 parents and students from eastern Kentucky gathered in Berea, Kentucky on Saturday, October 26, to explore educational opportunities and develop their own Map to Success, a program Berea designed to introduce families of high school students to college and career planning. The event marked the first joint effort between Partners for Education at Berea College and CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION, CMT’s initiative challenging viewers to pursue post-secondary education. CMT has recruited some of music’s biggest names to motivate and inspire viewers with their own education stories, including Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

The day-long event began with a showcase featuring art work by students from schools in eastern Kentucky. Next, families ate lunch alongside college students in Berea College’s dining hall to learn more about their college experience.

The families toured the campus and attended classes taught by Berea professors. A panel of college students from eastern Kentucky shared their experiences as they moved from high school to college to serve as inspiration for the students and their families.

The day wrapped up with CMT Senior Director of Public Affairs Lucia Folk leading the parents of the visiting students in a pledge to support their children’s education and graduation from high school, as well as planning for college and careers. CMT brought Nashville recording artist Courtney Cole to perform and celebrate the families and their commitments to their children’s education. A graduate of Belmont University, Cole took time between songs to describe the important role college played in her success.

Partners for Education at Berea College is devoted to fulfilling Berea College’s commitment to provide educational opportunities for students primarily from Appalachia, who have great promise and limited economic resources. Eight federally funded programs make up Partners for Education and support the college in reaching this initiative. The oldest of these programs at Berea College, Upward Bound, has been serving low income, first generation high school students since 1967. Since that time, the college has also acquired the following federal programs: Educational Talent Search (1991), GEAR UP (1999), Upward Bound Math and Science (1999), Kentucky College Coaches (2010), and Promise Neighborhood (2010). Through these programs, a total of 18 counties in Kentucky are being served. To find out more about Partners for Education at Berea College, contact Charlie Foster at or (859) 985-3857.

CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION is a comprehensive educational campaign that provides an online resource,, to aid CMT viewers in overcoming the most commonly perceived obstacles to furthering education. The site aggregates the multitude of existing, quality information, in one easy-to-navigate, central location, and creates an individualized education action plan for each user.

CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION is founded on the same education research and insights that led to the creation of Get Schooled, a non-profit organization dedicated to using media, technology, and popular culture to improve attendance. Get Schooled was formed through a partnership between Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Advising partners for the CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION campaign include Achieving the Dream, Alltuition, Association of Career & Technical Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Center for Workforce & Economic Development, American Association of Community Colleges, National Skills Coalition and Skills for America’s Future, and the The Aspen Institute. To find out more about CMT EMPOWERING EDUCATION, contact Amanda Murphy at or (615) 335-8408.

Partners for Education Team Wins Chili Cookoff

Congratulations to the wonderful ladies on our Finance Team for their winning entry in the Chili Cookoff at the Berea College Fall Festival. Their “Outlaw Chili” took 1st place in the cook off!
Partners for Education Team Wins Chili Cookoff
From left to right: Mary Jane Stancil, Cherri Brock, Rachael Anglin, and Tracy Featherly. Not pictured is Crystal Erwin, who was an integral part of the the team and who is quite the outlaw herself.

Congratulations to the winners!

Dreama Gentry Wins OAK Award

Congratulations to Dreama Gentry, Executive Director of Partners for Education at Berea College, for her OAK Award! Gentry was one of three recipients of the Council on Postsecondary Education “Outstanding Kentucky Alumnus” Award, which recognized her for her work on a state and national level.

Dreama Gentry Wins OAK Award

Gentry and Berea College President Lyle Roelofs pose with the OAK Award.

To find out more about the OAK Award, visit CPE’s website:
Congratulations to Dreama and all 2013′s award recipients!

Appalachian Kentucky Class of 2018 GEARs UP for College


Corbin, KY— More than five-thousand 8th-graders from Appalachian Kentucky gathered Wednesday to commit to high school graduation and college going. The Berea College Partners for Education event kicked off GEAR UP month in Kentucky and included a motivational message from Hasan Davis, Commissioner of the of Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as musical performances by the Hall Pass Tour, Chad Warrix and Keith Anderson.

Davis opened the event by vocalizing the expectation that the students will graduate high school and attend college. He led the crowd of 5,000 8th graders, all dressed in blue “Class of 2018” t-shirts, in chanting, “I commit not to quit!” Davis shared that Berea College will bring the students back together in the spring of 2018 to celebrate their high school graduation and college acceptance.


Next, The Hall Pass Tour, a high-energy hip-hop group based out of New York City motivated the students to use education to achieve their dreams. Hall Pass Tour selected two local students, Rachel Hayes, 13, from Jackson County, and Bailey Wright, 13, from Garrard County, to join them onstage to open the show.


“At first I was nervous,” Hayes said, “but I got really relieved when everybody was cheering for me.” Hayes was glad to join the event because she wants to see all her classmates succeed. “It’s for GEAR UP, to help you get ready for college and encourage kids to go and get a higher education,” she said. “Go to college, do what you’ve always wanted to do. Even if it sounds impossible, do it, no matter what it is.”


Wright also enjoyed the experience. “It was just extravagant for me to be able to do that,” Wright said. “This is by far the biggest crowd I have ever performed in front of, and I’m surprised I was not nervous. It was wonderful.”

Wright said she was glad to participate in the event because she wants to see all her classmates succeed. “GEAR UP is college readiness for kids all over Kentucky, and the nation, actually, but this is GEAR UP Appalachia,” Wright said. “Schools from all over eastern and southern Kentucky came here in Corbin to unite and celebrate being the Class of 2018 and just get ready for college.”


Nashville recording artists Chad Warrix and Keith Anderson then provided the students with a concert experience. Warrix and Anderson gave students the opportunity to ask questions such as what role college played in their career success.


The Berea College GEAR UP program provides tutoring, mentoring and college planning activities in 19 school districts in 17 south-eastern Kentucky counties. The goal is to increase high school graduation and college-going rates in these counties. Dreama Gentry, of Berea College, explains “Without intervention, more than 1,000 of these 5,000 8th graders will drop out of high school, and less than 2,200 of these students will go on to college. It is critical to the economic success of our region that we increase the number of students who graduate from high school and attend college.”

For more information about Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership, check out the program page at

Knox County Schools and Berea College Launch AmeriCorps ‘PartnerCorps’ Program


Barbourville, KY – Sophomores and juniors at Knox Central High convened on Union College’s campus to launch Berea College’s PartnerCorps Program. PartnerCorps is a new program administered by Partners for Education at Berea College and funded through AmeriCorps. Twenty-four PartnerCorps members will serve Knox Central High School by providing intensive mentoring to the entire high school population.


Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson, Berea College President Lyle Roelofs, Union College President Marcia Hawkins, Union College Vice President of Academic Affairs David Johns, Knox Central High School Principal Tim Melton, Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service Program Officer Andrea Sieloff, and Partners For Education Executive Director Dreama Gentry were all in attendance for the event. Lt. Gov. Abramson explained to the students that, “each of you will benefit from the PartnerCorps program we are kicking off today, a program aimed at putting mentors in your school who will help you with college guidance.”


Special guests Nashville recording artists Chad Warrix and Keith Anderson shared their own stories with the students and treated them to an acoustic performance. Both Warrix and Anderson shared that they earned their college degrees before pursuing careers in music.

Knox County PartnerCorps Kickoff

For more information about Berea College’s PartnerCorps program, visit the program page at

Pulaski Program Pairs Seniors and Freshmen for School Success


Check out this new program going on at Pulaski County High School! Small groups of incoming freshmen work with seniors to learn about their new environment, all so that every student can become college and career ready!

The GEAR UP Boomerang Program at Pulaski County High School

To find out more about GEAR UP, visit our program page. If you want to find a GEAR UP resource near you, check out our staff directory.

Rockcastle Leaders Work Together to Solve Ropes Challenge


Blindfolded and instructed to rob a bank without touching any laser sensors, Frankie Woodall was out of ideas. “Without my partners, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” said the 9th-grader from Rockcastle County High School. But, with the help of 19 other freshmen, he made it through the lasers, which were really ropes, and all the way to the end of the Asbury University Challenge Course’s low ropes activities.

“I gained the knowledge of how to lead a little bit better,” he said, “but also, it was really fun in the process.”


The 20 9th-graders started the day by dividing into teams and playing games that required cooperation, creative thinking, and even frenzied gestures when talking was not allowed. The students then followed their challenge course guides into the ropes area, where they balanced the entire group on a large seesawing platform, helped each other walk along ropes suspended above the ground, and even made it through the crisscrossing ropes that represented laser security at a bank.


The visit to the challenge course was part of an ongoing leadership training program run by Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership with Rockcastle County schools. The students were selected by teachers, administrators and community members because they showed promise as future leaders. Last spring, the group met leaders from other schools participating in Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership on the college’s campus. There, they defined leadership and began the process of forming their team at the local level, but also found themselves part of a bigger, regional group of young leaders.

Linda Stone, the GEAR UP service coordinator for Rockcastle County, said that the training was part of a plan to get the students working together. “This would give us an opportunity to give these kids an experience where maybe they weren’t always comfortable,” she said. “Blindfolding a student who is very comfortable taking control and always being in charge, and then they have to be led, is instrumental to helping create that team and helping them see that everybody has a voice and has the opportunity to lead in that group.”

Juliann Kirby saw her fellow 9th-graders change from her competitors to her teammates over the course of the day. “At first everybody just assumed it was part of a competition, since there were two teams,” she said. “But later on you realized that you had to depend upon each other to get by.”

Kirby said she even appreciated being asked to do something she would not normally do. “It got everybody out of their comfort zone, having to be with others,” she said. “And when you’d open your mouth and say something, then you’d always find a way to get some kind of positive feedback.”

Stone says that the leadership training will be integral in helping meet GEAR UP’s objectives of increasing high school graduation rates and preparing students for college and career success. “We know that students have a voice. And they listen to their peers,” she said. “Their goal will really be to make college something that every student is going to strive for. Not just the students that everybody thinks will go to college, but all students will be focused on ‘What am I doing when I get out of here?’ ‘Where am I going when I graduate high school?’”

Woodall feels ready for his new role as a student leader. “I learned here that it’s okay to speak your mind as a leader, and that it’s easy once you get to know the people around you.” He has come a long way since he was blindfolded and trapped by lasers. “I really didn’t think I would be cut out to be a leader, but it’s really not that hard, when you think about it.”

To find out more about GEAR UP in Rockcastle County, contact Linda Stone at (859) 985-5118, or

New AmeriCorps Service Opportunity in Knox & Leslie Counties


Are you passionate about education, and interested in serving the southeastern region of Kentucky? Check out a new opportunity that may be just right for you: PartnerCorps is a new initiative that brings together Partners for Education at Berea College, AmeriCorps, Knox County and Leslie County schools. Forty highly motivated PartnerCorps members will team up in Knox and Leslie county high schools to improve educational outcomes for all students. To find out more, visit our PartnerCorps page!



More than 100 students from Madison, Pulaski, Clay and Knox counties met at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame to listen to the motivational message of Tennessee Titans placekicker Rob Bironas and run through practice drills with him and local football players. The event was organized by Stars Over Appalachia, a partnership between Berea College’s GEAR UP program and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.


A Louisville native, Bironas told stories about his path to the NFL and about how important college was to his success in life. His message was particularly important for the 8th-graders who had all expressed an interest in athletic careers. “For everybody to believe in you, and to have pride in yourself, do everything at your best,” Bironas said. “Whether it be school, sports, music—always try to do your best.”

Bironas’ message to students included a connection between academics and athletics. “Study hard. If you’re not studying, if you’re not making the grades, you’re not going to be playing sports,” he said. “You’re not going to get to college, and that means you won’t be playing college ball, or you won’t be performing at that level.”

Afterward, the students divided into groups and practiced football drills with Bironas. Members of the Rockcastle County High School football team helped coach the 8th-graders as they caught passes, took handoffs and hit pads. “We’re just out here having fun,” Bironas said. “It’s kind of like the NFL Play 60 program, get out and exercise and have fun. Do stuff you enjoy doing.”

Bironas even donated $5,000 to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame to support its educational mission. “Music is something that I believe helps teach kids how to study,” he said. “I believe in music and I believe in what it does for kids.” Bironas also sees many parallels between what he does and music. “I worked hard growing up. I had to practice, had to fail. Determination, hard work, focus, preparation—it’s all seen in the music world, it’s all seen in the classroom.”


Students also took a tour of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame during the day. There, they saw more success stories from their home state, which may encourage the students to pursue a career in the music industry. Robert Lawson, the Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, said that was all part of the plan. “If they want to be anything in the music business, this lets them know: ‘Hey, I don’t have to be the guy standing in the front of the stage performing. I can be a roadie, I can be a manager,’” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to explore all options, not just in music, but in sports and entertainment as well.”

Paula Wilder, coordinator of Stars Over Appalachia for Berea College’s GEAR UP program, said that the day’s events made the idea behind Stars Over Appalachia a reality. “It was designed in an attempt to provide students with this unbelievable mentor—a celebrity—and hopefully that will keep them motivated,” she said. “And they will graduate not only from high school, but they will go on and graduate from college because they’ll follow in that role model’s footsteps.”

She said that she looked forward to future events being as successful as the day with Bironas. “I think that today would be an aspiring athlete’s dream. It’s not every day that you get to have an opportunity to throw around and kick footballs and stuff with someone from the NFL,” she said. “So what I saw was a bunch of happy kids who were learning a whole lot. And it was the true definition of mentoring.”

To find out more about Rob Bironas and his work with youth, visit To learn more about the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, go to To find out about a GEAR UP program near you, visit

Rob Bironas and Stars Over Appalachia



Two Jackson County daycares received children’s books donations from Berea College’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative on May 2. Each daycare received 50 books that are considered important for children to read before kindergarten.

The first stop on the delivery route was Val’s Daycare, run by Valorie Gabbard. “Promise Neighborhood has brought me 50 books, and I appreciate it, and they will be used,” she said. “I love reading to my children that I keep, and it’s good for them, so I’m excited.”

The other delivery went to Pat’s Daycare, where Patricia Cox looked on as the children crowded around the box and pulled out books about subjects that ranged from dinosaurs, to farm animals to a steam shovel. “They all love to be read to,” she said. “And they all sit and pretend to read books.”

Tonya Huff, the Promise Neighborhood Academic Specialist for McKee Elementary, said that reading is key to a child’s development. “Reading is very important, especially being read to at that early of an age, because it helps their communication skills, which helps in their language development.”


Huff also shared a message for parents who want to learn more about the 50 books children should read before kindergarten. “If parents are interested in starting to read the 50 books with their children, they should know where they are accessible,” she said. In addition to donating sets of the books to the daycares, Promise Neighborhood donated sets to libraries and reading programs. “Anyone in Jackson County can check them out at the Jackson County Public Library,” she said. “And any school-aged kids or preschool kids can get them through Early Steps to School Success, through Save the Children, or the schools’ libraries.”

The Promise Neighborhood is a partnership between Berea College and Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties that is designed to help every young person travel from cradle to career through an educational pipeline supported by family and community. To find out more about the Promise Neighborhood, click here.



Students from Garrard Middle School traveled to Berea Monday to visit the Berea College Educational Farm. The trip was part of the partnership between Berea College’s GEAR UP program and Garrard County Schools. The seventh-graders toured the farm, learning about the hands-on way in which some college students study real world subjects like agriculture, animal husbandry and business.

“Today we are visiting an agriculture farm in Berea and we are learning about the processes of it and how students can get involved with it,” said Bailey Wright, of GMS. “I’m kind of interested in agriculture because my parents have a history of working on farms and selling tractors, so I’m kind of doing a little research for myself,” she said.

Bob Harned, Berea College’s Educational Farm Manager, said that even though these students are years away from attending college, there is much to learn from a trip to a campus. “Whether they’re middle-schoolers or high-schoolers, the big picture here is to encourage them to further their education in some form or fashion.” Of course, Harned hopes the students liked what they saw on the farm. “We want to inform these prospective college students that there is a lot more opportunity here than cows and plows.” But he also knows that one subject can often spark an interest in another, and any motivation to excel in education makes the trip worthwhile. “They might say, ‘Maybe I’m kind of interested in agriculture or a related science, so when I hit high school, I need the math and science course that will prepare me to go on to maybe Berea College or somewhere else.’”


Wright agrees that seventh-graders should be visiting college campuses and learning more. “It’s important to be thinking about colleges early in the seventh-grade, because it helps you get a feel for what you want,” she said. “I can get ready for college by preparing myself by researching, making good grades and taking these trips to gain more information.”

Braxton Allen, Wright’s classmate, has already seen the value of a GEAR UP trip, as well as the program’s other activities in his school. “GEAR UP helps get us prepared for college by bringing us to field trips like this,” he said. “And they also helped us get the EXPLORE test early in seventh grade instead of eighth, and I scored the highest in my grade that year.”

For more information about GEAR UP in Garrard County, contact Angie Fielder at (859) 792-2108 or

Garrard Farm Visit Photo Gallery



Fifty-five students from Garrard and Rockcastle counties traveled to Berea College Thursday to take part in the Berea College CFES Scholar Leadership Summit. The eighth-graders received training on leadership qualities, what it takes to achieve their goals and what they can do to empower others to succeed. The event was a collaboration between Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership, Garrard and Rockcastle county schools and College for Every Student (CFES), a national organization that works to help every student it serves attend and succeed in college.

Student groups began their training by defining leadership themselves. Using brightly colored markers on large sheets of paper, participants brainstormed and then presented their ideas to the group. Ideas like bravery, choices and being an example made it onto the papers, which were posted up on the wall for all the groups to see. When all the groups’ concepts were put together, they showed just how deep and complex leadership could be.

“We had a fun day,” said Caroline Coguer, 14, from Rockcastle Middle School. “We were able to learn things that we may not have been able to learn just sitting in the classroom about leadership and how to become a leader in the community and not just be another knot on the log and actually stand out.”


Jordan Griffin, 14, from Garrard County Middle School said he felt like he was joining a bigger team. “We found other people from different schools who are doing the same things as us,” he said. “We learned all kinds of service lessons, like things we should do in our community and how to help our community.” He said he was encouraged by the group effort. “Even if you do fail, at least you tried.”

Linda Stone, GEAR UP Service Coordinator for Garrard and Rockcastle counties, says that this is the first meeting of the groups, but certainly not the last. “These students will see each other a lot over the next four years,” Stone said. They will continue to meet both at their school during club day, but also at regional events like the one Thursday. When they come together as a region, the students will be ambassadors from their school. “Our idea is, they’ll take back the three core practices of CFES: college pathways, mentoring and leadership through service.”

The Leadership Summit is especially effective at encouraging mentoring and leadership through service. “We know that peer mentoring and the posse mentality is much more effective at getting kids to college,” Stone said. “If their best friend is going to college, then they’re going to college.”

“So if we can create an environment where all of the students have the same goal and the same vision and are on the same path, they’re much more likely to continue on and complete school.”

For more information about GEAR UP, CFES or the Scholar Leadership program in Garrard County, contact Angie Fielder at (859) 792-2108 or For more information in Rockcastle County, contact Cayci Mahaffey at (606) 256-2622 or

Promise Neighborhood Director Profiled in Appalachian Center Newsletter

Check out the profile of our Promise Neighborhood Director, Ginny Ann Blackson, in the latest edition of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center newsletter.  On page 8, Ginny tells the story of how she returned to her mountain home.

Promises Coming Home

To find out more about Promise Neighborhood, visit our program page.  To learn about the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, check out their website, including news and upcoming events.

Clay, Jackson, Owsley 8th-Graders Meet with Mentors Through Skype

Check out Terry Wilson’s guest blog post for Kentucky Youth Advocates. There, you can find out all about GEAR UP students meeting with college mentors via Skype!

You Can Make a Difference

Kentucky Youth Advocates is an organization dedicated to improving child well-being and public policies.

Terry Wilson is the GEAR UP Service Coordinator for Clay, Jackson and Owsley Counties.  To find out more about mentoring in these counties, contact Terry at (606) 568-0484

Rockcastle County Middle School Team Wins Competition, Talks to Astronaut

A team of students from Rockcastle County Middle School took home first place in a machine-building contest for their heavy-lifting crane design. The competition was part of Eastern Kentucky University’s “From the Bluegrass to the Blue Marble: Systems in Space” program on January 11th.  The event also included a conversation with an astronaut as he orbited Earth aboard the International Space Station.

The winning team, from left to right: Jackson Cromer, 7th grade, Cameron Coy, 8th grade, Caleb Ballinger, 8th grade, and Ryan Martin, 8th grade.

The team competed with 160 students from 45 schools invited by EKU’s STEM-H Institute, an organization that focuses on college-readiness in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health.  Dr. Jaleh Rezaie, Associate Dean of Graduate Education and Research and Executive Director of EKU’s STEM-H Institute, said all the participants succeeded.  “Every one of them was proud, and should be proud, of their projects,” she said.

According to Rezaie, research shows that the number of students who could pursue STEM-H careers shrinks as they age, and that middle-school students are at a crucial crossroads.  “It’s very important to reach them and make sure that they realize the importance of these fields,” she said, “no matter what area they want to get into when they get to college.”  Indeed, she explained, a strong grasp of these fields of study opens doors for students, regardless of their chosen field.  “A lot of students when they come to college, they don’t have as many choices because they didn’t take appropriate courses in high school,” she said.  “That’s why we try to reach them as early as possible so they are prepared when they come to college.”

Caleb Ballinger, Cameron Coy, Jackson Cromer and Ryan Martin smiled as they demonstrated the way their crane worked.  A crank pulled fishing line over three pulleys, a spool, and a stationary peg, to raise and lower a cup filled with pennies.  Key ingredients included cardboard, pencils, duct tape, and 40 D batteries taped together to act as a counterweight. The materials they were allowed to use were determined by the competition’s rules, but that did not deter the team. “I feel like the limitations made us get a bit more creative than we would be otherwise,” Coy said.  Cromer agreed.  “It could’ve been easier, but we like a challenge.  And this was definitely a challenge.”

The competition was part of a day filled with activities that related to STEM-H fields.  The morning schedule centered around a NASA Downlink, where Tom Marshburn, M.D., an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, participated in a live video chat with students in EKU’s Hummel Planetarium.  The downlink was one of only six such conferences in the nation.

Cameron Coy, 8th grade, is considering a career that could take him to space.

Coy was chosen to ask a question based on his research and the essay he wrote.  “I’m very interested in space,” he said.  “I had a lot of prior knowledge about physics, and science in general, especially space.”  He appreciated Mashburn’s explanations, but also the way he answered students’ questions in zero gravity.  “He would flip the microphone,” Coy said. “And a coworker of his came through and did a flip through the camera actually, which was really neat to see.”  Coy predicts that he and his fellow students at the event might get their own chance to venture into space. “I especially think for the time I’m living in and growing up in, it’ll be a lot more common to be able to go into space regardless of your job as long as it’s something in science or mathematics, which is something I have a great interest in.”

Berea College’s GEAR UP Program partnered with several participating school districts to provide assistance with the event.  The program contributed supplies, staff for project supervision, and transportation to EKU.  GEAR UP works with school districts to ensure that students graduate from high school college-ready and prepared for college and career success.

The team from RCMS may not be ready for college just yet, but they had already overcome some adversity to win their competition.  They built their crane in the office of Cayci Mahaffey, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for RCMS, where an early design left its mark on the room.  “We initially had a lawnmower battery in here,” Coy said. “However, that spilled and destroyed our first box.”

“Battery acid is not good for cardboard,” said Comer. “It tends to eat away at it and destroy it.”

“And carpet,” Martin added.

“You should see Ms. Cayci’s floor,” said Comer.

“It took two science teachers and three janitors to help us clean that up,” Coy said.  The team persevered, though, and won first place.  “Our hearts were with this,” Coy said.

Free Tax Preparation Volunteers Help Families File Taxes and Claim the EITC in Berea, Manchester

Program Provides Economic Boost to Families and Communities


Berea (Ky.) — The Eastern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition, in partnership with Berea College’s Office of Externally Sponsored Programs, will operate a free tax preparation site on Berea College’s campus and Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus for families with income up to $50,000.  The Berea site will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. starting January 28.  The Manchester site will be open February 12 and 26, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

IRS-certified volunteers will file taxes in Berea at the Bruce-Trades Building in room 226, and in Manchester in room 304. Appointments are required and can be made for the Berea location by calling Tracy Featherly at (859) 985-3276.  Appointments for Manchester should be made by calling Sylvester Lynn at (606) 598-1810 or (859) 358-5577.

The Eastern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition is part of the Kentucky Asset Success Initiative (KASI). KASI is a coalition of agencies and organizations seeking to empower low- and moderate-income Kentuckians through a variety of asset-building programs. In 2012, KASI-operated sites helped 11,471 working families claim tax refunds totaling $16.9 million, generating $27.3 million of economic activity in their communities. KASI’s member coalitions will host more than 75 sites in 2013.

This year, working families with three or more children and an income less than $50,270 (if married and filing a joint return) may be eligible for a maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) of $5,891. “The goal of the free tax preparation sites is to ensure that more eligible households claim EITC and receive their full refunds rather than paying preparation fees or being tempted by high interest refund-anticipation loans,” said Vickie Johnson, a tax site coordinator through KASI.  “For many families, a tax refund is the largest one-time influx of money all year, and the economic boost for individuals and communities is significant.”  The IRS estimates that as many as twenty percent of taxpayers who are eligible for the EITC do not claim it.

Filers must bring the following documents to their appointment:

-photo ID and social security card for each person on the return

-all W-2 and/or 1099 forms

-payments for child care expenses (plus name, address, EIN, or SSN of child care provider)

-Form 1098-T (if applicable)

-student loan interest paid in 2011

-mortgage and property tax information

-routing and account information for direct deposit

-and a copy of your 2010 tax return (if available)

Estill County High School Students Celebrate MLK Day by Volunteering

A group of students from Estill County High School traveled to Lexington Monday to volunteer as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration.  The students visited Transylvania University, where they made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Hope Mobile Outreach, a project that helps homeless men, women and children by offering food, clothing and healthcare.  Students also made Valentine’s Day cards for the Ronald McDonald Foundation and wrote letters to U.S. military service members stationed overseas.

Front row left to right: Ashley Flynn, Whitney Innis, Brittney Viars, Jonica Davis. Back row left to right: Kristina Baker, Aleeza Costantino, James Enrique Strange, Sharon Niece.

Ashley Flynn is the AmeriCorps Kentucky College Coach for Estill County High School and one of the event coordinators.  She said the trip was a success.  “Students who participated used their day off from school to help others,” she said. “It was a very fun day.”

The event was the result of a partnership between the Kentucky River Foothills Youth Investment Project and Kentucky College Coaches.  Sharon Niece, the Youth Coordinator for the Youth Investment Project, provided transportation for the event, and participants from her project also attended.

Owsley County Students Make Healthy Meals Tasty

The hallways of Owsley County High School filled with the smell of freshly baked goods, and students who followed their noses found the classroom where cooking was the day’s lesson.  “Kids have been excited all morning,” said Dustin Estridge, AgriScience teacher at OCHS.  “We’ve had students stop in and say, ‘What’s that smell?’  And remember, this is healthy, wholesome food.  And they’re coming by, ‘Hey, can I have a cupcake?’  And they’re these muffins that are super-healthy.”

The bakers were students from Agriculture and Consumer Family Sciences classes, led by the instructor for the day, Chef Jim Whaley.  Whaley is the Chef Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program, the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, and Jefferson County Public Schools.  He also teaches community-based cooking classes, working with partners like the YMCA and the Boy Scouts of America.  “As a chef, I love getting to take the passion and love for cooking that I have and getting to share it, working side by side with students and teaching them skills that they might use on into their adult lives.”

Whaley came to OCHS as part of a range of projects with the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  In the fall, elementary students attended food tastings in their school cafeterias, where they tried kale soup.  In the spring, Whaley will work with a student team as they create a recipe to enter into Kentucky’s Junior Iron Chef competition. “I love coming to Owsley County Schools because they have such a wonderful Farm-to-School Program working with their FFA and with the Ag classes,” he says.  “They bring in a wonderful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden. Then I can come in and work with the students on how to take those wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables that they’re already seeing, they’re already familiar with, because they’ve been working with these in the garden, through the farm-to-school program, or seeing them served in their cafeteria, and just add to that, and we can continue building on the notion of eating more fresh, healthy food. “

The first recipe was for fresh, fall-winter butternut squash muffins.  “We take butternut squash puree and add it into a muffin recipe, so the students have been learning about properly mixing dry and wet ingredients, learning a little bit about healthy eating, healthy recipes,” Whaley said. “The muffin recipe also has olive oil in it instead of butter or regular oil.”

While one side of the classroom was reserved for baking, the other side sizzled.

“We’ve also been making a garden marinara,” Whaley explained.  “The students have been chopping fresh garlic, chopping onion, chopping fresh broccoli, and then I’ve shown them how to sauté. I brought my food mill, and we’ve been milling the tomatoes, and then they put the milled tomato juice in, and, with fresh basil, we’re cooking up a really nice marinara sauce.”

Estridge was happy watching his chefs-in-training.  “The reaction has been great.  The students have been like, ‘Mr. Estridge, you have to eat this, this is so good.’  Kids don’t care if it’s healthy, or not healthy.  Kids care about what it tastes like,” he said.   “And Chef Whaley is helping us come up with healthy ways to utilize some of the fresh vegetables we’re using to basically entice our students to eat healthy, so I think it’s wonderful, I really do.”

Noah Shelby, 17, is an 11th-grader at OCHS.  He decided to take Agriculture with no prior experience in the field and would recommend it to other students.  “It’s not a real working-class—you enjoy it, you get out and you have fun. You get outside, you get hands-on with it, you get to feel the experience of what you do.”  As for the two recipes, he is confident he can recreate them for any of the students who smelled the class projects but missed out on tasting them.  “Oh yeah, I could just make it right up for them,” he said.  “I might just do that.”

Chef Whaley’s OCHS Cooking Class Gallery

Families and Schools Come Together in Jackson County

Family members, school administrators, community volunteers and Berea College Promise Neighborhood staff members came together on December 14 to celebrate the Families and Schools Together (FAST) graduation at Jackson County Middle School.

FAST is an international program that works to bring families, community members and school personnel together to support children in schools.

Autumn Wilson, an 8th-grader at JCMS, and her mother Renee, admire their graduation hats during one-on-one time.

The program began in Jackson County in the spring of 2010 at Jackson County High School when local Berea College staff organized a team of parents, community volunteers and school staff. Throughout the semester, families met weekly to eat dinner and participate in activities designed to build family time and support children.

Grace McKenzie, the Promise Neighborhood Academic Specialist for JCMS, was attending her third FAST graduation. “I love watching the way that the dynamics change from the first session to the last session,” she said.  “If you haven’t been a part of FAST, you don’t understand that, but there’s something that just happens when the groups start to bond, when the parents and students start to ‘get it’—it’s a beautiful thing.”

FAST is unique because it involves the whole family. The program organizers know that it’s easier for parents to come to the school if they can bring children, grandparents and anyone else who lives in their home. An evening at FAST includes dinner, family time and time for parents to talk with each other while children and teens participate in other activities. The PTSO catered the graduation event and St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Living Stone Ministries provided transportation.

Brian Cox, 14, is the FAST Team Youth Partner.  He explained the appeal FAST has for teenagers.  “You can pretty much complain to your parents about school or anything they want to talk about.”  That’s important, he says, “because kids are misunderstood and don’t get to explain themselves and say what’s really on their mind because they just say what their parents want them to say.”  But FAST, he said, “helps them get relaxed around their parents and talk more to them, and get them to understand each other.”

The Promise Neighborhood Initiative, sponsored by Berea College, works in Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties, partnering with school districts and programs like FAST to make sure children are college- and career-ready. Research shows that parents can make a positive impact in their children’s high school and college success if they lay strong foundations in elementary and middle school.

The Allen family gathers around the FAST board game at JCMS.

After the intensive eight-week program, families continue to meet and develop community service projects.  “It’s a great program,” Cox said.  “Even though I won’t be here and this is the last year I will be able to do it at the middle school, I hope they do it at the other schools, at the high school and at the elementary school.”

If you are a parent, community member or school staff member interested in working with FAST, you can contact Associate Director of Parent Partnerships Rochelle Garrett at 859-985-3552 or via e-mail at


The Full Moon Writers: (back row, left to right) Chelsey Belt, Gabrielle Tirey (middle row, L to R) Whitney Tillery, Hailey Tirey, Brooke Clark, (front row, L to R) Megan Shaw, Carla Cox, and Destiny Lakes.

The Full Moon Writers, a community writing and arts group for girls ages 11 – 16, recently performed their play, A Friendship Birthday Sleepover. The play is about a birthday party to which one friend doesn’t receive an invitation and how the group reconciles with her. The cast included  Carla Cox, Megan Shaw, Destiny Lakes, Brooke Clark, Gabrielle Tirey, Whitney Tillery, Chelsea Belt and Hailey Tirey.

The Full Moon Writers began meeting weekly in September. The student-directed group has explored free writing, personal experience writing, poetry and playwriting. Haley McCoy, a Jackson County youth leader, and Beth Dotson Brown, an artist with the Promise Neighborhood program, facilitate the group.

Jennifer Rose, another Promise Neighborhood artist, helped the students write and learn to perform a song for the play.

“It’s been wonderful to see these girls develop their creativity, writing abilities, leadership and teamwork skills, and friendships as this group has evolved. They wrote their play, which so well represented the friendship struggles young women have,” says Beth Dotson Brown. “For me it was great fun to see the talent that emerged as the group rehearsed their play.”

The group’s next project is to learn to make journals with Promise Neighborhood artist Linda Fifield.


Jimmy Wayne on stage at Renfro Valley.

Jimmy Wayne stars at Stars Over Appalachia.

Renfro Valley was packed on Saturday, November 10, with families from eighteen Kentucky counties all celebrating the important roles that parents and grandparents play in education.  Berea College’s Office of Externally Sponsored Programs and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame hosted the event.  The Berea office sponsors college access programs across the region, including GEAR UP, Promise Neighborhood, Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math & Science, Educational Talent Search and i3.

The highlight of the day was a program featuring Nashville recording artist Jimmy Wayne, whose number one hit “Do You Believe Me Now” and top ten hits “Stay Gone” and “I Love You This Much” brought star-power to the stage.  Wayne performed and spoke to parents and students about his journey through the foster care system and the difference that one family made in his life.  “This family allowed me to stay in their home for six years.  I was a 16-year-old-kid, had been homeless, had been living on the street, had been in the system, had gone to 12 schools in two years,” Wayne said. “This family gave me an opportunity to chase my dream.  And not only to chase my dream, but to catch it.”

Local businesses and organizations donated door prizes for attendees.  Currier’s Music World in Richmond and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame each donated a guitar. Dora Lewis, parent of a Madison County middle school GEAR UP student and Tyler Haste, a Breathitt County student, won the guitars, and met with Jimmy Wayne backstage. Billy Rose, owner of the Berea Dairy Queen, donated an iPad, which was won by Jaime Lakes, a family member of a Madison County GEAR UP middle school student.  The Rockcastle County Kiwanis Club provided door prizes, also. Local bluegrass group Sugartree also performed for families as they ate lunch and toured Renfro Valley.

Along with providing entertainment and prizes, the daylong event brought educators, program staff and parents together to focus on children’s success. Hasan Davis, Kentucky Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, spoke to students and their families about the power of being a role model. He said to parents and family members, “We as adults need to be looking at our children and the ones we love and tell them every day how much we believe in them.”


Eight hundred eighth-grade students traveled to the Corbin Center for Technology and Community Activities on Tuesday to meet with more than 40 professionals from around Kentucky. Students traveled from Bell, Knox and Corbin school districts for the event, sponsored by Berea College’s GEAR UP Promise Neighborhood program.

Chad Henson and Brett Messer from Knox County Middle School show off an aviation map of Kentucky, which was part of a presentation on aviation careers.

Project director Celesta Riffe spoke about GEAR UP and the event. “One of the things we wanted to make sure our students get is the connection between careers and school. We want them to understand that there’s a link to what they’re learning in the classroom and what happens in the real world.”

Students rotated between sessions that highlighted 14 career clusters as varied as agriculture, business, communications, health science, human services and arts and humanities. Each session featured a three-person panel and students asked panelists questions about their job responsibilities, salaries and training.

Panelists spoke with students about their educational backgrounds and how they planned for and made it to their careers. From left to right, Mark Daniels is a grant writer for Corbin Independent Schools and a screenwriter, Chadd Cole is a freelance visual effects artist, and Robert Lawson is the executive director of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

Panelist Carla Blanton, of Carla Blanton Consulting, said the most important advice she gave students was to “try and match something that they’re good at with something they love. They’re going to be working for the next 40 to 50 years, so it’s important to find something that they have a passion for.”

Knox County Agriculture Extension Agent Wayne Kirby answers students’ questions about his career experiences.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, only 21-40% of graduates in Bell, Knox and Whitley counties were college and career ready in 2011. The GEAR UP program works to ensure that all students in participating districts are prepared for college and for their careers. Todd Tremaine, a panelist and an ATF investigator, reinforced the GEAR UP message, saying “it’s never too early to start thinking about your career. These are middle school students, and once you get in high school, you need to start setting a good foundation.”


Students from Berea Community Schools hosted teams from Clay and Owsley counties in Berea for activities and hands-on learning as part of a Destination ImagiNation Skills and Challenges Day.  Destination Imagination is an educational program where students work together to solve challenges with creativity and enthusiasm. Last Saturday, the students constructed sturdy towers out of toothpicks and gum drops and built contraptions that held ping pong balls underwater. Then they planned out and performed short plays for one another—but only after they designed their own background scenery.

A Berea Community team tests the load-bearing strength of their toothpick and gumdrop tower.

Levi and Sofia Saderholm, cousins who attend Berea Community, said students who are not part of Destination ImagiNation are missing out.  “It’s really, really fun,” Sofia said.  “Everyone there is really nice and they do their best to make you fit in and feel like, ‘I’m a member of the DI family.”  Levi agreed. “It’s really welcoming and really easy to catch on.  All you need is a little imagination.”

J.P. Hensley and Mamie Bowling create props for a skit that must include a magical, mysterious object.

“I think this is a great thing, to get all together and have fun,” said J.P. Hensley, a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Frankie Baldwin, a freshman at Owlsey County High School.  “You’re not going to see it anywhere else at school, just having fun and practicing,” agreed Axel Bryant, also a freshman at OCHS.  “Grab up your friends and just join,” he said.  “It really helps with your friendships, too, because you learn more about each other as you work together.”  “It will be the experience of a lifetime,” Baldwin added.

The day of learning new skills and attempting “instant challenges” was intended to prepare the teams of students for state competition in March.  If teams have enough success competing in Kentucky, they can advance to the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee in May.  Globals are the culminating event of the Destination ImagiNation year, where 15,000 attendees descend on Knoxville to watch teams from 13 countries showcase their yearlong efforts.

Owsley County High School students had five minutes to build a town out of Play-doh.

Bill Broomhead started working with Destination ImagiNation when his daughter joined a team.  Six years later, he is the director of Destination ImagiNation for Kentucky.  “DI gives kids the ability to work together as a team, to take the individual skills that the kids are good at and combine them and use+ those to get out of an academic environment and realize what they’re learning in school makes a difference.”

Broomhead said that interested parents should get involved in Destination ImagiNation at their child’s school.  “More than enough kids always volunteer.  The problem is getting parents or teachers that are willing to spend their time and effort to shepherd these kids along.”  For more information about teams at Berea Community Schools, contact Connie Mondine  To find out more about the team at Manchester Elementary, contact team manager Mamie Bowling at 606-598-6333.   To learn more about teams in Owsley County, contact Glenn Baker at 606-593-6363, ext. 1011.  For more information about Destination ImagiNation, visit


The Christian Appalachian Project Family Life Abuse Center, in partnership with the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative, is proud to present the Celebrating Women of All Ages Conference at Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester Campus Saturday, October 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The conference is a free, fun-filled, educational, self-esteem summit that is open to all Clay County women ages 13 and up. To attend, register at the Cumberland Valley District Health Department, located at 330 Shamrock Road in Manchester, Kentucky, or online at

The conference will feature educational workshops on self-esteem, cyber safety and social media, healthy cooking, relationships and finances. A healthy lunch is provided and will feature a musical performance by Mitch Barrett. After the luncheon, stress relief activities will be available. Community resource tables will also be set up to connect participants to available services in the local community. All registered participants will receive a free tote bag filled with promotional materials.


The GEAR UP program in Pulaski County hosted two days of theatre productions and career exploration talks for middle schools students from Garrard, Laurel, Rockcastle and Pulaski counties this week.

The Chamber Theatre Group, a national educational theater company, gave four performances of their ENCORE production. The show features classic American literature brought to life on stage and is specifically designed around the school curriculum for middle school students. Among the plays and stories performed were Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Students from Pulaski and Rockcastle counties also met in small groups to talk about school, college and careers with professionals from around Kentucky. The presentations included careers ranging from engineer to a thoroughbred horse farm manager.  Guest speakers included Henry Caldwell, Tino Soto-Cuevas and Djuan Trent, a United Way fundraiser and former Miss Kentucky. Ms. Trent said “I enjoyed sharing my story with the students…I majored in theatre while I was at Berea College, so I was pleased to see the production incorporated into the program as well. Any time we are able to stimulate the minds of our students, it’s a good time.”

Djuan Trent talks with students about her college and career experiences.

GEAR UP is a federally funded grant program run by Berea College. The program works with nineteen Kentucky school districts to prepare students for college and their careers. The theatre productions and career talks focused on building appreciation for the arts and connecting academic experiences to real world jobs.


Parents and kindergarteners came out to a picnic at Paces Creek Elementary School September 25 to learn about the importance of school attendance during elementary school.  Kelly Brown, Berea College Promise Neighborhood Academic Specialist for Paces Creek, told the parents, “It’s important to start with kindergarten, since kindergarteners have the most absences in the school.” She offered tips for good attendance, including keeping children on a regular routine—especially bedtime, packing book bags and picking out clothes the night before, and talking to teachers or administrators if students are anxious about going to school.

The message rang true for parents.  “It’s as important as anything,” said Joetta Wagers, whose daughter Miley is a kindergartener at Paces Creek.  “If you’re not there, you can’t learn.”

Jennifer and Mia Collins make apple necklaces before dinner.

After Brown spoke, students gathered around Donna Gillahan, Children’s Librarian for Clay County Public Library, for a reading of “Ten Red Apples” by Virginia Miller.  When the children finished listening to the book, they made necklaces out of beads shaped like apples.

After dinner, Brad and Donnie Stevens played songs for the students.  Donnie, an Arts and Humanities teacher at Clay County High School, has played music for other picnics at Clay County elementary schools, partnering with Promise Neighborhood Academic Specialists to incorporate art wherever possible.  “I like the idea of being able to share an important part of my life with the kids,” Stevens said.  He encouraged other artists to partner with Promise Neighborhood and get involved.  “It’s an opportunity for others to share their talents with the community and kids.  They go unnoticed and unappreciated, but this is an opportunity for them,” he said.

Promise Neighborhood also partnered with Save the Children to put on the picnic.  Jennifer Gates, Coordinator of the Early Steps to School Success Program at Paces Creek and the parent of a kindergartener, said the partnership helps her enroll parents and children in the program. Gillahan said that from her perspective at the library, she has seen the benefits of Early Steps to School Success first hand.  “Putting parents and teachers in the same room helps transition students,” she said.  “Both parents and students aren’t as nervous about starting school.”  As for the partnerships with Save the Children and Promise Neighborhood, she said they have helped.  “Some relationships we would never have developed if not for the programs.”


A new after-school program, funded by the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, is scheduled to begin in Jackson County on October 15. Registration forms and materials about the programs have been sent home with students over the last two weeks. The new after-school program is open to all students at Jackson County Middle and High School and students in third through fifth grade at McKee, Tyner and Sand Gap elementary schools. Students will get help in school subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies. They can also receive instruction in enrichment subjects not normally taught in schools, like martial arts, robotics and humanities through the use of drama.

“With schools continually facing budget cuts, there are fewer academic support or enrichment opportunities for students,” said Erin Connor, Associate Director of School-Based Services for Berea College Promise Neighborhood. “With the new district-wide after-school program, we are excited to be able to provide opportunities for extra academic support, combined with experiences with the arts. We hope to offer a lot of fun and educational experiences that students don’t get during the regular school day.”

Not only does this after-school program offer these new opportunities for students, but it also provides bus transportation after the program each day and a chance for kids to enjoy physical activity and a healthy snack.  Participation in the program is free of charge. To register, students must commit to participating fully until the December break.


On Friday September 28, more than 300 eighth-grade students from Southern Middle School braved the rain to graduate from middle school to college for a day on campus at Somerset Community College (SCC). The event was part of a two-week college exploration experience for all Pulaski County eighth grade students.

Pulaski County eighth-graders observe medical students in training.

On a day when most classes are not in session on SCC’s campus, instructors and staff from all the SCC campuses volunteered their time to meet with students and introduce them to college life. Like SCC students, the eighth-graders followed schedules and moved between buildings for classes. Sample classes for the day included traditional high school subjects like biology, chemistry and English, as well as career-focused classes in medicine, design and technology programs.

A culinary arts class, which included sample desserts, was a favorite among students.  Chefs Michael Wells and Eduardo Nazario blended demonstrations of cooking techniques and academic information into their presentation. The class calculated food costs for an event, planned a meal and discussed career options in culinary arts. Culinary arts is a new addition to SCC program offerings and is based at the McCreary satellite campus.

Chef Michael Wells challenges students to stay sharp in math.

Reflecting on the day, both teacher Regina Bell and student Addie Jones said their favorite part was the tour of the computer aided drafting and design lab with instructor Eric Wooldridge. There, students learned about using computer software to create materials, invent new products and design buildings.

The day on campus was a partnership between GEAR UP, Somerset Community College and Pulaski County Schools. GEAR UP is a grant program sponsored by Berea College that works with 19 Kentucky school districts to help students succeed in school and prepare for college and their careers.  GEAR UP Service Coordinator Robin Choate explained “college and career related experiences are important for students because they help connect school work to life outside of the classroom.”

For more information about Berea College’s GEAR UP programs, visit


Berea College’s Office of Externally Sponsored Programs hosted visitors from the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday, September 20.  Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, and Greg Darnieder, Special Assistant to the Secretary on College Access, came to Kentucky as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour.  The representatives came to Berea College to observe the impact of nine federally funded college access programs the college operates in the region.

Jim Shelton talks with Clay County High School students.

The tour included visits with students, teachers and administrators in Breathitt, Clay, Laurel and Perry counties.  In Clay County, Shelton and Darnieder participated in a roundtable discussion with Berea College partner agencies and grant staff including Clay County Schools, AdvanceKY, the Elgin Foundation, Save the Children, Educational Talent Search, GEAR UP, i3, and Promise Neighborhood.  Topics ranged from Advanced Placement courses and using data like grades and attendance statistics to forming plans to improve high school graduation rates and college success for students.

On Friday, Darnieder visited Hazard Community and Technical College to conference with representatives from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and Berea College’s GEAR UP and Promise Neighborhood programs.  They discussed lifting student aspirations, the cost of college, student and parent surveys, and early warning systems that indicate when students might be in danger of falling behind.


Greg Darnieder talks with members of the Laurel County Youth Leadership Council.

Darnieder traveled to South Laurel Middle School in Laurel County to meet with students and parents who had taken part in Families and Schools Together, a parent engagement program that brings parents and schools closer while working toward academic success for children.  Darnieder also met the Laurel County Youth Leadership Council, students who demonstrated an interest in leadership through service.

Darnieder also sat down to dinner with college students who are recent graduates of Berea College’s Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science programs.  The students described the impact the programs had on them.  “Upward Bound is definitely why I’m here,” said Jonathan Powell, of his first year at Berea College.  Christina Benedict, also a freshman at Berea, explained that her experience with Upward Bound inspired her to work with Berea College’s GEAR UP program as a mentor to 8th graders at Berea Community School.

The Department of Education representatives traveled across the country from September 12-21 to deliver the message that “Education Drives America.”  Other stops included California, Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.


Students from Clay and Owsley counties arrive at EKU’s Manchester campus.

Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus hosted more than four hundred middle-schoolers from Clay and Owsley counties Thursday for a question and answer session with college athletes.  The “Colonels for Education” event was a collaboration between Berea College’s GEAR UP program, Eastern Kentucky University, and Clay and Owsley Counties’ school districts.

Representatives from EKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as baseball and softball teams, took the stage to answer students’ questions about college, and to encourage the 7th and 8th graders to start thinking about higher education in middle school.

Jeff Johnson, a junior on the EKU basketball team, and John Wilson, a sophomore on the EKU baseball team, answer students’ questions about college.

“Coming back to where you’re from, it’s humbling,” said John Wilson, a sophomore catcher for the Colonels from Manchester, on being up in front of the students as a mentor.

Colette Cole talks to students about the costs of her college education.

Colette Cole, a native of Breathitt County, told the students that she was working on her third degree from EKU, and that the cost of her education so far totaled more than $100,000.  “But do you know how much of that I had to pay for?” She asked.  “Zero.”

The event is part of national GEAR UP week, a week dedicated to celebrating the success of the national grant program.  Developed in 1998, GEAR UP works to ensure that all students have the tools they need to apply for, attend and graduate from college.

Kristin Perry, a senior on the EKU Softball team, and Colette Cole, Director of Basketball Operations, talk to students about juggling sports and the demands of being a college student.

Jason Stein, EKU’s baseball coach, reinforced the program’s mission in his comments to the students.  Stein explained that on average, college graduates earn more money than high school graduates, and even live longer.  He also recommended that the students begin the process of mastering a skill at a young age, since research shows that it takes roughly 10,000 hours, or ten years of work to do so.

EKU Baseball Coach Jason Stein motivates students to do well in middle school to prepare for college success.

Terry Gray, Director of Continuing Education and Educational Outreach of the Manchester regional campus, and Kara Kovert, EKU Athletic Department Director of Athletic Marketing, passed microphones around the auditorium to students.  Their questions ranged from “How many hours a day do you practice and do homework?” to “How does it feel to dunk on somebody?”

Students gather around John Wilson and Colette Cole for autographs.

The event ended with an autograph signing session, where several students took the opportunity to pose for pictures with the athletes.  The participating students also received complementary tickets to the next EKU home football game.

A student poses for a photo with Jeff Johnson.


Corbin, KY— Five thousand eighth-graders from Appalachian Kentucky gathered Wednesday to officially kick off the Berea College GEAR UP CFES Scholars program.  The two-hour event included talks from Lyle Roelofs, Berea College President, and Hasan Davis, Commissioner of the of Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as musical performances by Chad Warrix of Halfway to Hazard, the Hall Pass Tour, a hip-hop and R&B group from New York, and Perry County eighth-grader Kennedy Bailey.

Warrix was the first in his family to attend college and he told students “college prepares you. High school is not enough anymore, guys. It used to be, but things are changing rapidly and you have to be prepared…so you can have a chance of getting a great job. ” Warrix volunteers his time to visit schools in Kentucky as part of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Stars Over Appalachia program, working to encourage students to stay in school and go to college.  After the event, Kennedy Bailey shared her thoughts on why the event is important. “GEAR UP is about getting you ready to get up and do your best in whatever you do,” she said, “whether it’s performing or applying to college or just being in middle school.”

The Hall Pass Tour, based out of New York City, engaged students with a high-energy hip-hop and R&B show focused on building their dreams.  “On the Hall Pass Tour, we have a motto,” said headlining singer j.Renee, as she introduced a duet with co-headliner ScienZe.  “We say that, ‘Team work makes the dream work.’”  The pair emphasized the point further by explaining that the song “Dreamwork” was developed collaboratively with a student.

The Hall Pass Tour also auditions and selects students to perform as part of their shows. Bailey, an eighth-grade student from Hazard, KY, rehearsed with the group and joined them onstage to open the show.  “GEAR UP is about getting you ready to get up and do your best in whatever you do,” Bailey explained, “whether it’s performing or applying to college or just being in middle school.”

The Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice was a key partner in the event, which aimed to increase high school graduation rates and college-going rates in southeastern Kentucky.  Commissioner Davis took the stage last, to put the messages from college presidents and motivational musicians in perspective.  “A lot of people wonder, ‘Why does the commissioner of Juvenile Justice, a guy who locks kids up, want to be here talking to you today?’” he said.  “What we know is that young people who get an education are much less likely to come into the prison system.  And we want you to do great things like all these people have talked about, not coming through our system.”  He said that it might be tempting for students to think that the people on stage did not have the same challenges they did, but everyone struggles to be the greatest they can be.  “You can do the same,” he said.  “You have the ability.  It’s time for you to get geared up.”

Davis closed the event by reminding students that they are Berea College CFES Scholars and they are expected to graduate high school and attend college.  He then led the students in chanting, “I commit not to quit!” Davis shared with students that Berea College and CFES will bring them back together in the spring of 2017 to celebrate their high school graduation and college acceptance.

GEAR UP is a U.S. Department of Education college readiness program and the Berea College program works in seventeen Kentucky counties.  The goal of the Berea College GEAR UP program is to increase high school graduation and college-going rates in these counties. Dreama Gentry, of Berea College, explains “Without interventions like our Berea CFES Scholars program, more than 1,000 of these 5,000 8th graders will drop out of high school, and less than 2,200 of these students will go on to college.  It is critical to the economic success of our region that we increase the number of students who graduate from high school and attend college.”

The event was a partnership between Berea College, College for Every Student (CFES), and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. CFES is a nonprofit organization with a national network of K-12 Scholars that commit to academic success, high school graduation and college-going.   The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame sponsors the Stars Over Appalachia program, which connects artists like Warrix to educational programs across Kentucky.


The Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative will hold a Homecoming Open House on September 1st from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Jackson County Promise Neighborhood office on Highway 290, across from Jackson County Bank.  In the two hours leading up to the Homecoming parade, visitors from the Jackson County community can meet their county’s Promise Neighborhood staff and pick up informational flyers about the programs and services available to them.  Everyone who stops by will receive a free gift and a free healthy snack.  Local artists will also be on hand to showcase their talents.  Taylor Dye will provide music, fiber artist Devonna Hisel will demonstrate her craft, and other artists will display their artwork.

The Promise Neighborhood Initiative works to build a network of cradle-to-career educational, family and community supports centered on local school districts.  Programs and activities must work to:

  • Improve academic achievement, especially in math or language arts
  • Help children, ages birth to five, be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten
  • Provide opportunities for youth to experience, explore and participate in the arts
  • Improve health and well being by addressing childhood obesity and promoting physical activity
  • Provide career exploration and connection opportunities for students.
  • Help students of all ages become college-ready

For more information about Promise Neighborhood or the Jackson County Homecoming Open House, please contact Fred McQueen at (606) 287-7505, or at  You can also visit the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative online at

Kentucky College Coaches AmeriCorps Program

The Berea College Externally Sponsored Programs office is now recruiting for twelve AmeriCorps College Coaches positions in local schools. Members will work with high schools students to improve college access and readiness. We are currently recruiting for positions in Breathitt County, Estill County, Lee County, Leslie County, Knott County, Knox County, Madison County (Berea and Richmond), Perry County and Pulaski County.

Kentucky College Coaches serve as AmeriCorps members for ten months and receive a modest living allowance ($12,100 per service term), an education award ($5,550), healthcare benefits and childcare assistance. Requirements for AmeriCorps service include proof of citizenship or permanent residency, a clean federal background check and a clear sexual predator check. The College Coaches positions also require a bachelor’s degree.

The Kentucky College Coaches program is a collaborative effort between Northern Kentucky University, Berea College, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), Kentucky Area Technology Centers and GEAR UP Kentucky.  For more information about the program visit To apply for a position, visit the national AmeriCorps website at and search for the Kentucky College Coaches position description by selecting ‘education’ as your interest area and ‘Kentucky’ as your service location.

For more information about the positions coordinated by Berea College email Heather Dufour at

College Coaches Flyer

The Kentucky College Coaches AmeriCorps Program (KCC), implemented in the 2010-11 school year, is a collaborative effort between Northern Kentucky University, Berea College, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), Kentucky Area Technology Centers and GEAR UP Kentucky.

Kentucky College Coaches maintains that all students deserve equal access to educational opportunities. The goal of KCC is to ensure that students, especially typically underserved students – first generation college-going, low-income, and minority – get the information and knowledge they need and deserve to make educated decisions and plans for their future.

Kentucky College Coaches seeks to operate as a statewide initiative. Using primarily a near-peer model of advising, KCC endeavors to establish an active pipeline of current and relevant information and know-how in the college-going process. Drawing on expertise from professionals in the fields of education, higher education, financial institutions, state and government agencies, coaches will present highly relevant, pointed information that will enable students to leave high school with solid plans and goals to secure their own success and success for the state of Kentucky.
As a statewide initiative, KCC enlists the support of both state and local organizations and businesses, garnering relationships that can help motivate students and propel them into a productive future, thereby strengthening Kentucky’s workforce, and developing its economy.  These partnerships also work to serve coaches, as they gain training and relationships acquired through KCC, in order to establish a strong network of beneficial and influential support, and ultimately strong and impactful individuals who remain dedicated to the state of Kentucky.

As Kentucky College Coaches, members join the larger network of AmeriCorps Members, whose passion and dedication to service and people join them in a common cause of volunteerism. AmeriCorps Members, in return for their dedicated service, receive a living stipend, and at the end of a full-time commitment, an Education Award (currently $5,350).

AmeriCorps Service 101

AmeriCorps programs are an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the nation’s largest grantmaker supporting service and volunteering. The mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.

The goal of AmeriCorps is to meet pressing, unmet needs through service and to renew the ethic of civic responsibility among our citizens. As AmeriCorps helps to develop more active citizens, communities are strengthened throughout the country. A fundamental purpose of AmeriCorps is to help recruit, support, and manage the vast networks of volunteers and AmeriCorps members assisting nonprofit organizations in meeting community needs.

The three pillars of the Kentucky College Access Network’s (OCAN) AmeriCorps College Guide Program are community service, community strengthening, and member development – each of these is equally important.

KCC Mission Statement and Explanation

The mission of Kentucky College Coaches is to increase the college-going rate of Kentucky students by establishing a statewide pipeline of advisors who assist low-income and first generation students in gaining awareness and information about college preparation, admission and financial aid as early as possible.

In order to carry out this mission effectively, performance measures will be established with the State, as required by the Corporation.  In the upcoming year, the Corporation is requiring “standardized performance measures” in a pilot stage, to some of its programs.  OCAN is not required to participate in the standardized performance measure pilot.  While OCAN’s Need & Service Activities Performance Measure has been completed, the Participant Development and Volunteer Generation Performance Measures have not been made yet.  Once established, host sites will be responsible for shaping their program around these goals and measures, and will be responsible to report quarterly to OCAN on the progress toward completion of the goals.

Following are the 2009-2010 performance measures that were established with the State.  We anticipate performance measures for the 2010-2011 program year to be similar, but with much larger numbers and perhaps under different category names.  OCAN will confirm this information with each host site once we receive final word from the State.

AmeriCorps Service, Elgibility and Provisions

  1. To be eligible to serve with AmeriCorps, applicants must be at least 17 years old and have a high school diploma, or promise to obtain one. For the Kentucky College Coaches, applicants are required to hold a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, applicants must be a citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident alien of the United States.
  2. Documentation of eligibility for each applicant’s file is necessary. A member file checklist and the corresponding forms, in addition to members’ eligibility documentation, will be housed at the Kentucky College Coaches office.
  3. All members working in School Districts with direct contact with students must undergo and clear both a state and federal background check (BCI/FBI). Generally, this can be done in the assigned school district.  Background check results should be maintained in your member’s personnel file.
  4. Members must also clear a sexual predator check. Searches can be made through the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website: Sufficient documentation is a printout confirming that the member does not have a match in the database.  This check is completed by Kentucky College Coaches on each applicant during their initial application process; however, each host site should also conduct this check on the Member’s at their site.

Member Benefits

Living Allowance
In return for their commitment to service, AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance of $12,100 or $1,210 monthly for 10 months. As this living allowance is not a wage, grantees must not pay the stipend on an hourly basis. Members will receive the living allowance on a bi-weekly basis.  KCC will administer the payroll for all AmeriCorps Kentucky College Coaches.

The Education Award
The Education Award is an award provided to a member who has successfully completed a required term of service in an approved national service position and who otherwise meets the eligibility criteria in the Act. An education award may be used: (1) to repay qualified student loans, (2) toward educational expenses at a Title IV Institution of Higher Education; and (3) toward expenses incurred in participating in school-to-work programs approved by the Secretaries of Labor and Education. The amount of the award is determined by the number of hours completed.  Since Kentucky College Coaches are full-time, 10-month AmeriCorps positions, the Education Award for the 2012-2013 program year will be $5,550.

Health Insurance
Grantees must provide health care coverage that provides the minimum benefits determined by the Corporation. This coverage is secured and administrated by KCC.

Childcare Enrollment 
The Corporation for National and Community Service will provide child care through an eligible provider or a child care allowance to those full-time participants who need child care in order to participate. The Corporation will pay 100 percent of the child care allowance, or, if the program provides child care through an eligible provider, the actual cost of the care or the amount of the allowance, whichever is less.

Grants Help Berea College and Secondary School Students GEAR UP for College

Berea College has been awarded two Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grants from the U.S. Department of Education totaling nearly $10.7 million annually to focus teachers, administrators, parents and secondary school students on preparing for success in post-secondary education. The grants will fund two programs (GEAR UP Appalachia! and Promise Neighborhood GEAR UP) that serve elementary and middle school students in 17 central and southeastern Kentucky counties, a dozen of which are among the poorest in the nation.

The grants will be administered by Berea College’s Office of Externally Sponsored Programs [now Partners for Education], which is devoted to fulfilling Berea College’s commitment to providing educational opportunities for students, primarily from Appalachia, who have great promise and limited economic resources. The grants are expected to extend for a period of seven years, totaling nearly $75 million through 2018.

“Preparing our youth for achieving success in college is an extension of Berea’s commitment to serving our region and preparing students to be engaged citizens and lifelong learners,” says Dreama Gentry, director of Externally Sponsored Programs. “Receiving these awards is a testament to the strong partnerships we have with schools and communities throughout Appalachian Kentucky, where together we will dramatically increase the numbers of students who graduate from high school and successfully complete college.”

GEAR UP programs aim to increase academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education, increase the rate of high school graduation and participation in postsecondary education and to increase students’ educational aspirations and student and family knowledge of postsecondary education options, preparation and financing.

Berea College’s GEAR UP staff will work with teachers, students and parents to ensure that young people have help preparing for college, both at home and at school. Specific services will include tutoring, professional development, college visits, career exploration activities, financial literacy classes and parent engagement work.

Promise Neighborhood GEAR UP, which partners Berea College with 11 high-poverty school districts (Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Lee, Owsley, Perry, Powell and Rockcastle Counties), will serve more than 7,000 students in 44 schools in southeastern Kentucky, 12 of which are designated by the U.S. Department of Education as persistently lowest-achieving schools.

GEAR UP Appalachia!, which partners Berea College with eight high-poverty school districts (Berea Independent, Estill, Garrard, Jackson Independent, Laurel, Leslie, Madison and Pulaski Counties), will serve more than 6,200 students in 22 schools in central and southeastern Kentucky, five of which are designated by the U.S. Department of Education as persistently lowest-achieving schools.

Both GEAR UP programs will partner with other educational and community organizations, including Hazard Community and Technical College, Eastern Kentucky University and 22 community organizations including the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, College for Every Student and the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

“We know innovative programs like GEAR UP that intervene early can make all the difference in whether young people go to college,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These grants provide the mentoring, support, and financial aid that will give thousands of students a greater opportunity to achieve success in postsecondary education.”

The Office of Externally Sponsored Programs at Berea College operates eight federally-funded programs to support the college in reaching this initiative. The oldest of these programs, Upward Bound, has been serving low-income, first-generation high school students since 1967. Since that time, the college has also acquired the following federal programs: Educational Talent Search (1991), GEAR UP (1999), Upward Bound Math and Science (1999), Women’s Education Equity Act (2009), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Strategic Enhancement to Mentoring (2009), Kentucky College Coaches (2010) and Promise Neighborhood (2010). Through these eight programs, the college serves 57 counties in Kentucky.