Berea Educators Help Close the Skills Gap for Low-Income Students At College For Every Student National Conference

By Aubrey Bresett

CFES ConferenceEssex, NY – Twenty-seven educators and 17 students from Berea GEAR-UP participated in the College For Every Student National Conference on October 29-30 in Burlington, Vermont, and shared best practices they are implementing to ensure students are college and 21st century career ready.

During his opening remarks, CFES President & CEO Rick Dalton addressed the 350 students, K-16 educators, and corporate partners. “You are not tomorrow’s leaders…. you are today’s leaders.”

Attendees were motivated by the presentations of two keynote speakers: Lucille O’Neal, author and mother of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal, and Dr. Calvin Mackie, founder of STEMNOLA, an organization dedicated to encouraging young people to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) study.

Both O’Neal and Mackie struck similar chords: hope transforms lives and hope is the answer; focus on education, which is a key enabler of great outcomes; you must have a dream, but you’ve got to put in the work to achieve it; and college IS for every student.

In a series of 18 workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, the CFES National Conference explored ways to Close the Skills Gap: Ensuring that Low-Income Students are College & Career Ready.

In one workshop, Steve Jones, Service Coordinator for Berea GEAR-UP, spoke about the importance of early college and career awareness and his success with implementing the CFES program in K-8 schools.

Service Coordinator Terry Wilson shared his success with Skype mentoring. “Being from rural Appalachia, we are limited in our access to college and career professionals,” he stated. “Skype has given our students the opportunity to be mentored by college students from universities like Harvard.”

The 17 Berea Scholars were joined by 40 other Scholars from around the country and participated in sessions on leadership, resilience, and other “Essential Skills” that CFES has shown helps students become college and career ready.

“I really enjoyed the college tours,” said Chris Hall, a CFES Scholar and PALS student. “During the conference, the CFES staff took us to visit Champlain Community College and Saint Michael’s College.”

Since 1991, CFES has helped more than 100,000 mostly low-income students in more than 700 K-12 urban and rural schools improve academic achievement, attain the “Essential Skills,” and ultimately graduate from high school and succeed in college.

In closing the conference, CFES Program Director Hasan Davis electrified the audience.

“We in CFES are ‘hope dealers,’” he concluded.  “CFES is a brave, bold idea.  We level the playing field so that college is indeed for every student.”

Aubrey Bresett is the Communications Director for College for Every Student. 

Early Childhood Advisory Council Op-Ed

From the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood

All have a stakeIn a gubernatorial election year, how do we know if Kentucky is on the right track? The best way to see what the future health of any state holds is to look at how it cares for its smallest residents – its babies. About 90 percent of a child’s critical brain development happens by age 5, making the connections that lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning. When babies receive good healthcare, positive early learning experiences and are part of strong families, they are more likely to succeed in grade school, high school and beyond. When they don’t, their future – and the future of the commonwealth– is much more uncertain.

In the last 25 years, Governors from both political parties have spearheaded progress for our youngest learners. Governor Wallace Wilkinson created preschool in the Kentucky Education Reform Act (1990), Governor Paul Patton created the KIDS NOW initiatives (2000), Governor Ernie Fletcher expanded preschool (2006) and, most recently, Governor Steve Beshear created the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood (2011) and successfully championed both further preschool expansion (2014) and mandatory participation in the quality rating system for all early childhood programs (2015). We have a lot to be proud of as a national leader in early education. It is imperative that future leaders continue to build on the successes of past administrations’ investments in early childhood.

Giving children a fair shot at success in school and beyond requires everyone’s involvement. The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood provides coordination, collaboration and innovative strategies, engaging state and local community leaders who work together with the resources and programs available, to give families and children access to quality child care and preschool services.

prior settingThe legislature funded KIDS NOW by designating 25 percent of the Master Tobacco Settlement funds for initiatives focused on development of the whole child prenatally through kindergarten. These critical funds have helped assure healthy birth outcomes through programs like the Folic Acid campaign, HANDS home visiting, early childhood mental health services, and substance abuse and other prevention programs, saving Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars. Tobacco Settlement investments have also improved program quality by offering professional development and scholarships to prepare teachers to create high quality early learning environments. However, these tobacco dollars are declining. We must find the resources to continue programs like these that are working for our families.

Children who experience quality early learning programs are healthier, more self-sufficient and less likely to enter the criminal justice system over their lifetime. High quality settings should be the norm regardless of whether a family chooses to use private child care or enrolls their child in Head Start or public preschool. Thanks to passage of House Bill 234 (2015), all early childhood programs receiving public funding must be rated on quality measures through the STARS quality rating system, so families can make informed decisions when choosing early learning settings.

Access to high quality child care doesn’t just benefit families. According to an article in Forbes titled “This Is Why You Should Care About Child Care (Even If You Don’t Have Kids)” by Anna Bahney, “access to the established child care market increases labor force participation, boosts local economies and helps support a stable workforce. Quality child care also helps to build a workforce of the future.”

Simply put, quality child care keeps parents working and children learning while building our future workforce. In Kentucky, 63 percent of mothers of infants are in the labor force. A single working mom spends 34 percent of her income on child care. Child care subsidies for low-income families have not increased since 2000 despite rises in the cost of living, making it more difficult for providers to offer high quality care. With over 50 percent of Kentucky families living at or below the Federal Poverty Level, we need sustainable funding to provide them with essential services, including access to quality child care.

vote-facebookInvesting in children’s early years is also good for taxpayers with a $7 return for each $1 invested, a cost-effective approach to improving education, health and economic outcomes and reducing the need for costly special education and social programs later in life.

The most direct, cost efficient path to a stronger Kentucky future is building a competitive workforce and that begins with getting our children off to a good start. Let’s continue to build on our past successes and invest new resources and funding in effective programs for our most vulnerable Kentuckians. Let your local legislators and state gubernatorial candidates know that you support investments in quality early care and education programs for our children and our future.

On behalf of the 26 members of the Early Childhood Advisory Council:

Ben Cundiff
Cundiff Farms
Cadiz, KY

Dreama Gentry
Executive Director, Partners for Education
Berea College, Berea, KY

Rick Hulefeld
Founder and Executive Director
Children, Inc., Covington KY

Deborah Benberry Williams
Vice President, Market Manager
Community Development Banking
PNC Bank, Louisville, KY