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.