Middlesboro High School GEAR-UP held an Engineering and Aviation Open House for students and parents to participate in. Pictured from left to right are Joy Williams, FRYSC; Shelly Lewis, GEARUP Promise Zone Academic Specialist; and Sally Adams, GEAR-UP Promise Zone Family Engagement Specialist.

Promise Zone continues to help students, schools

The Kentucky Promise Zone is past the halfway mark for its 10-year commitment, and Bell County continues to see positive improvements from the investment.

Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley county have gained an advantage in applying for federal funds as well as additional assistance from federal agencies that oversee housing, education, economic development, agriculture and safety.

The Kentucky Promise Zone has grown from an original 12 partners to 93, provided more than 400 grant applications with letters of support and identified $729 million in investments that have been announced for the Promise Zone during the next 5 to 7 years.

“Due to Congressman (Hal) Rogers’ leadership in Washington, we have been blessed to have been placed in the Promise Zone,” Judge Executive Albey Brock said. “If it had not been for he and Senator (Mitch) McConnell, we would not have had a Promise Zone and as a result of their leadership in Washington, groups have been prioritized over the past few years when they have made applications to various government agencies,”

The impact is felt in Bell County and around the region.

Partners for Education at Berea College received $109 million with two new Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR-UP) grants. The funds will help students in 19 Kentucky counties, including Promise Zone counties, prepare for college and receive the support they need to achieve success in postsecondary education.

“The Kentucky Promise Zone is the grant that services our school and so they give us a budget every single year that we use,” Shelly Lewis, academic specialist at Middlesboro High School said. “We purchase technology and we purchase books.”

Lewis said with funding from the Kentucky Promise Zone to GEAR-UP, they are able to take students on college trips and work closely with parents through their Family Engagement Specialist Sally Adams.

“We are at every open house so that we are visible and we see parents,” she said. “We give them lots of information on colleges, and financial aid.”

Samuel Wansley, service coordinator for GEAR-UP Promise Zone, said the whole idea behind GEAR-UP is to get high school students prepared for either post-secondary education or some career goal.

According to Wansley, the graduation rates have gone up, and the number of students going on to college has also gone up. He said they are lacking in some areas and would love to get more parental involvement with the students.

“We hold events and do things for college readiness to get the students college and career ready,” Lewis said. “We are getting ready to go on a visit to Somerset because we are not just focused on colleges. We are focused on career avenues as well. Technical colleges, apprenticeships, and that’s a big thing that’s coming to Kentucky.”

Lewis said she met last year with the Kentucky Career Center, and they are working on starting apprenticeships for the high school students.

“They can go into an apprenticeship and they are guaranteed to have a job and work there,” she said.

Lewis said they also try to partner with the teachers to find out what the students are already learning and they can work with the students individually and do diagnostic testing.

“The testing we use is CERT, it’s College Entrance Readiness Testing and it gives the kids a diagnostic of what their ACT score would be, and they use that program to practice all the questions that they got wrong on that test and it teaches them how to answer them correctly,” she said. “ACT is a big thing with colleges right now and that is one things that we are focused on.”

The groups is making plans to hold a college and career fair later this spring to get parents and students involved.

“We are seeing success, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Wansley said.

This is year six of the 10-year grant.