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 Rochelle_Garrett@berea.edu.