Families and Schools Come Together at Big Creek Elementary in Perry County

More than fifty family members, school administrators, community volunteers and GEAR UP staff members came together on December 13 to celebrate the first Families and Schools Together (FAST) graduation in Perry County.

FAST is an international program that works to bring families, community members and school personnel together to support children in schools. The program began in Perry County in July, when local GEAR UP staff organized a team of parents, community volunteers and school staff. Since October, thirteen families met weekly to eat dinner and participate in activities designed to build family time and support children.

Jonathan Jett, the interim superintendent for Perry County schools, spoke glowingly about the program. “The best way to improve [school culture] is to involve parents and get them into the schools…just the turnout here for a small school is overwhelming.”

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.

Lola Taylor, a parent and a teacher at Big Creek, explained how FAST helped her. “They would also pair us up with other parents, and we got to discuss various topics,” she said.  “It’s really helped me because I always saw a teacher’s standpoint and now I got to be a parent. I miss those times of enjoying my daughter without all the other stuff we have to do.”

The GEAR UP program, sponsored by Berea College, works in seventeen southern and eastern Kentucky 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 large, positive impact in their children’s high school and college success if they lay strong foundations in elementary and middle school.  Big Creek Elementary piloted the first FAST program in the nation with special activities targeted at raising the success of fourth- and fifth-grade students.

After the intensive eight-week program, families continue to meet and develop community service projects. In addition, there are plans to expand the FAST program to other schools in Perry, Breathitt and Leslie counties.  If you are a parent, community member or school staff member interested in working with FAST locally, call Hazard-based Parent Engagement Specialist Angie Hampton at 606-634-7416 or email angela_hampton@berea.edu.