Dreams and Grants
On Monday, June 15, 2015, Partners for Education at Berea College, in partnership with AT&T and America’s Promise Alliance, convened a GradNation Community Summit in Knox County, Kentucky. Our GradNation Community Summit’s goal was to fuel local action to increase high school graduation rates. Over 155 educators, youth, business persons, parents and community members participated. Jane Beshear, First Lady of Kentucky, and Hasan Davis, youth advocate and former Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, provided remarks to set the stage for the community work that must be done to ensure the success of all youth in Knox County.
I had the pleasure of starting the event off by introducing our speakers. My son Malcolm participated as part of the student performers who presented their views. Here are our takeaways from the great day.
As Executive Director of Partners for Education at Berea College, I believe the voices of our youth are key to impacting high school graduation rates. We were determined to truly engage youth in our GradNation Summit. Bob Martin, a local theater artist and cultural organizer, uses cultural organizing and story work to examine communities, to build dynamic partnerships and to bring people into creative collaboration. Bob and two youth facilitators – Maizie Barrett, 14 years old and Malcolm Davis, my 15 year old son– agreed to work with a small group of Knox County youth and assist them in sharing their stories during the Summit. In the week prior to the Summit, Bob, Maizie and Malcolm spent three days learning, listening and working alongside students from Lynn Camp High School and Knox Central High School. During the Summit they facilitated a youth presentation and participated in the Story Circles.
I believe that this presentation was an exceptionally important piece to add to the Summit, and that it benefited the dialogue around high school graduation greatly. During the day, I heard adults reflect back on the youth’s words and stories. The youth shared with me that they had truly felt heard.
After our presentation, we each facilitated a Story Circle, where we participated in-group storytelling surrounding certain crisis areas that young people experience. I was placed into the crisis area “Engaging the Disengaged Student”, and was able to hear many great stories and conversations about helping young people become more active in their pursuit of knowledge.
Everyone around the circle had a great story that was relevant and moving concerning the topic. After the stories were shared, our group got together in what was called a Cross Talk. During this, we had time to ask questions pertaining to peoples stories, and talk about what information we wanted to bring to the entirety of the Summit about this topic.
As Hasan Davis, the former commissioner of Juvenile Justice, told the crowd, “A belief and a hope for a better future for our children is not a substitute for action. We must each make a commitment to ensure that all of our children reach their greatest potential.” I measure the immediate success of our Summit in the willingness of folks to continue working to ensure the educational success of Knox County students. By the end of the day, five action teams were formed, each team had identified specific strategies to implement, and over 55 persons had signed up to serve on an action team.
All in all, the Summit was an amazing opportunity for me and for the young adults that we engaged. We each shared our own challenges, learned about the challenges others face, and did our best to bring these challenges to the forefront of the minds of educators and community members from across Knox County.
My two takeaways from the Summit are, first, that young people need to be heard; and, second, there are a lot of people ready to listen and to help young kids make it through high school.
Dreama Gentry is the Executive Director of Partners for Education at Berea College. Malcolm Davis is a rising Junior at Berea Community High School. From their perspectives as a mother and a son, Dreama and Malcolm blog about education.
In 13 days, I will begin my 6-week long stay far away on a real college campus as part of the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS), and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer. Throughout my life, I have spent many summers away from home. I spent three weeks at Kansas State University my 7th grade year, three weeks at the Duke Marine Lab in North Carolina my 8th grade year, and three weeks at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in the hills of North Carolina last summer.
In my eyes, it is very important to not only enjoy yourself during the summer, but also use that time as a way to learn about yourself academically. I remember back to the summer I spent at KSU studying web programming. Before I attended this camp, it was my dream to program video games, but after experiencing it firsthand, I realized that I wanted no part in programming. The web programming class was eye-opening and helped me discover what I wanted to do in the future by showing me what I didn’t want to do.
The following year, when I attended the Duke University Marine Lab, I learned that contrary to my belief prior, I didn’t want to pursue Marine Biology, either. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself while at the Marine Lab, or learn new exciting things. It was definitely worth attending, and I’d recommend that experience to anyone.
In the summer of 1984, I represented Lincoln County High School in the Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP) at Eastern Kentucky University. It was only the second summer for GSP, a program that is still going strong here in Kentucky. That summer opened my eyes to possibilities, introduced me to the true meaning of “community” and gave me the opportunity to find my voice. Much of who I am today can be traced to that summer.
I’ve made it a priority to give Malcolm opportunities for summer learning. He’s selected most of his experiences, but a few, like the EKU Intensive Theater Camp, his Dad and I selected for him.
I chose those summer experiences, but there have been others that my parents chose for me. I remember last summer, when I had absolutely no interest in going to a theatre camp at Eastern Kentucky University, but was made to go by my family. The entire week was an experience like no other, and I fell in love with performing. Summer programs can help you discover things about yourself that you didn’t know.
I believe that experiences like these are critical for kids growing up in rural America. My kids go to a small school where they have known many of their classmates since daycare. Their school lacks diversity. As a Mom, I want to provide them with opportunities to learn side by side with kids from other places and from other backgrounds – kids who may not talk like, act like or think like them.
The point of this is, summer is more of a tool for young people than it is a time for relaxing. My school has presented me with little opportunity during the school year for hands-on exploration of careers, so I used the summer to explore and develop a vision of my future. These experiences have helped me find other summer programs such as the TASS Program I will be attending later this month.
I’m not alone in my commitment to summer learning. The Partners for Education team works to provide summer experiences for youth in the region. Our Upward Bound Math and Science program provides fifty students with a six-week residential experience on Berea’s campus. Last year the program was awarded national recognition by the National Summer Learning Association. Our GEAR UP program partners with colleges and universities and non-profit organizations across the state to connect GEAR UP students with summer residential opportunities across Kentucky and the nation.
In thirteen days, I will leave Malcolm on a college campus many miles from home knowing I won’t see him for six weeks. As I’m struggling with the tears and the fears, I will remind myself of that summer in 1984 when my Mom and Dad drove away leaving me at EKU for five weeks. It was hard for them, and I learned later that there were tears. But for me there were no tears that summer. It was a summer of learning, laughter, and community. That’s what I’m giving Malcolm.
In conclusion, I would like to push every young person to find some way to explore themselves and their future during the summer. And, I would encourage the adults in our lives to continue to push us into this exploration even when we may be resistant. Summer is a time to not only relax and enjoy ourselves, but to better ourselves as well.