Partners for Education at Berea College

    MLK March Helps KCC Members Move Their Feet for Peace

    • Posted on by Victoria Fleury
    • More than 100 people participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March that began at Union Church on January 21. Berea community members, Berea College students and staff, Kentucky College Coaches, KCC Junior volunteers, and parents with their children were among the participants who gathered at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate the memory of the civil rights leader.


      Rev. Gail E. Bowman, Director of Berea College’s Campus Christian Center and College Chaplain, spoke about the importance of marching and being passionate about freedom. “We march because Dr. King had a marching tradition, we march because the city of Berea has a marching tradition, we march because we have a right and it is right to march,” she said.  “We must march because we want to be peace on feet.”

      The marchers included 15 children who were prepared and motivated to participate after prepping for it the day before with the help of Kentucky College Coach staff members and junior volunteers. The team met with the children at the Ecovillage, an ecologically sustainable residential and learning complex for Berea College students with families. The facility also houses a childcare center for campus children and provides labor opportunities for students interested in sustainability.


      Volunteers worked with the children to create banners and posters for the march that were decorated with colorful handprints and thought bubbles that represented the children’s dreams of the future. KCC staff member Ismaila Ceesay recognized that it was important for the four junior volunteers to learn how to build community through service by helping others.

      “The KCC students participated because part of coaching students to get into college includes showing them other areas, other than academics, that can help them,” said Ceesay.  “Volunteerism is one of these tangibles and the students decided to use the MLK event as an opportunity to serve their community by being contributing members of their community, learning other skills like mentoring, organizing an event, and just simple responsibility.”

      Ceesay said the Ecovillage has a history of participating in the MLK Day marches, and that the children who continued this tradition enjoyed it. “The children loved making their own flags at the Sunday MLK event prep, and they loved marching with the adults because they know marching towards equality is an important event,” he said.


      The Ecovillage children’s parents walked alongside them, holding the banner, displaying a heart, the handprints of their children, and a caption that read “United With Love.”   “The parents like marching in this event because it is a teaching opportunity for them,” Ceesay said. “Their willingness to help their children read stories about MLK prompts questions from the kids about MLK and civil rights, which is the whole point.”

      Ceesay pointed out that the junior volunteers learned from the event, too. “They were hopefully infected with the volunteerism bug!” he said.


    Mentors Help Madison County Students Prepare for College

    • Posted on by Rachel Tsvetanov
    • Community mentors, educators and students gathered at Berea College on January 28 to reflect on the mentoring program that began this fall at Berea Community and Madison County middle schools. The mentoring program is a collaboration between Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership and the national organization College For Every Student (CFES).

      When GEAR UP students in Madison County enter the eighth grade, they become Berea College CFES Scholars and are matched with a mentor. They meet during school twice a month and talk about classes, careers, the transition to high school and preparing for college.

      Missy Wilkins, CFES Director of Mentoring, spoke at the lunch at Berea. “We’ve always known about mentoring increasing grades and attendance and improving students’ relationships with their parents. Some of the newest research coming out shows that mentoring helps students communicate with and have better relationships with their teachers.”

      The eighth grade mentees that attended the lunch talked about their relationships with their mentors.  One student said, “I feel like I can go to my mentor if I have a problem during school. I can tell her anything.”  Another student with an interest in art said, “my mentor is an awesome drawer. In the last session, we drew ornaments and she taught us how to shade.”

      Community artist and mentor Laurie Robie also uses her experience in the arts to connect with her students. “I like to share things I like to do with my mentees if they also like to do them. Last week they decided they wanted to work with polymer clay, so that’s what we’ll do.”

      Other mentors and students spoke about connecting through sports, reading, cooking and conversation.  GEAR UP Coordinator Paula Wilder said, “I see mentors often do activities with mentees that promote critical thinking about college. Together, they research college scholarships, talk about ACT scores, fill out mock college applications and research potential colleges.”
      GEAR UP students begin mentoring in the eighth grade to build the kind of support system they need to prepare for college. Missy Wilkins reminded mentors, “one of the great things a mentor does is to hold up a dream for a young person until they are able to hold up that dream for themselves.”

      For more information about mentoring opportunities in Madison County, contact Paula Wilder at

    Promise Neighborhood Director Profiled in Appalachian Center Newsletter

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • Check out the profile of our Promise Neighborhood Director, Ginny Ann Blackson, in the latest edition of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center newsletter.  On page 8, Ginny tells the story of how she returned to her mountain home.

      Promises Coming Home


      To find out more about Promise Neighborhood, visit our program page.  To learn about the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, check out their website, including news and upcoming events.


    Clay, Jackson, Owsley 8th-Graders Meet with Mentors Through Skype

    Rockcastle County Middle School Team Wins Competition, Talks to Astronaut

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • A team of students from Rockcastle County Middle School took home first place in a machine-building contest for their heavy-lifting crane design. The competition was part of Eastern Kentucky University’s “From the Bluegrass to the Blue Marble: Systems in Space” program on January 11th.  The event also included a conversation with an astronaut as he orbited Earth aboard the International Space Station.

      The winning team, from left to right: Jackson Cromer, 7th grade, Cameron Coy, 8th grade, Caleb Ballinger, 8th grade, and Ryan Martin, 8th grade.

      The team competed with 160 students from 45 schools invited by EKU’s STEM-H Institute, an organization that focuses on college-readiness in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health.  Dr. Jaleh Rezaie, Associate Dean of Graduate Education and Research and Executive Director of EKU’s STEM-H Institute, said all the participants succeeded.  “Every one of them was proud, and should be proud, of their projects,” she said.

      According to Rezaie, research shows that the number of students who could pursue STEM-H careers shrinks as they age, and that middle-school students are at a crucial crossroads.  “It’s very important to reach them and make sure that they realize the importance of these fields,” she said, “no matter what area they want to get into when they get to college.”  Indeed, she explained, a strong grasp of these fields of study opens doors for students, regardless of their chosen field.  “A lot of students when they come to college, they don’t have as many choices because they didn’t take appropriate courses in high school,” she said.  “That’s why we try to reach them as early as possible so they are prepared when they come to college.”

      Caleb Ballinger, Cameron Coy, Jackson Cromer and Ryan Martin smiled as they demonstrated the way their crane worked.  A crank pulled fishing line over three pulleys, a spool, and a stationary peg, to raise and lower a cup filled with pennies.  Key ingredients included cardboard, pencils, duct tape, and 40 D batteries taped together to act as a counterweight. The materials they were allowed to use were determined by the competition’s rules, but that did not deter the team. “I feel like the limitations made us get a bit more creative than we would be otherwise,” Coy said.  Cromer agreed.  “It could’ve been easier, but we like a challenge.  And this was definitely a challenge.”

      The competition was part of a day filled with activities that related to STEM-H fields.  The morning schedule centered around a NASA Downlink, where Tom Marshburn, M.D., an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, participated in a live video chat with students in EKU’s Hummel Planetarium.  The downlink was one of only six such conferences in the nation.

      Cameron Coy, 8th grade, is considering a career that could take him to space.

      Coy was chosen to ask a question based on his research and the essay he wrote.  “I’m very interested in space,” he said.  “I had a lot of prior knowledge about physics, and science in general, especially space.”  He appreciated Mashburn’s explanations, but also the way he answered students’ questions in zero gravity.  “He would flip the microphone,” Coy said. “And a coworker of his came through and did a flip through the camera actually, which was really neat to see.”  Coy predicts that he and his fellow students at the event might get their own chance to venture into space. “I especially think for the time I’m living in and growing up in, it’ll be a lot more common to be able to go into space regardless of your job as long as it’s something in science or mathematics, which is something I have a great interest in.”

      Berea College’s GEAR UP Program partnered with several participating school districts to provide assistance with the event.  The program contributed supplies, staff for project supervision, and transportation to EKU.  GEAR UP works with school districts to ensure that students graduate from high school college-ready and prepared for college and career success.

      The team from RCMS may not be ready for college just yet, but they had already overcome some adversity to win their competition.  They built their crane in the office of Cayci Mahaffey, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for RCMS, where an early design left its mark on the room.  “We initially had a lawnmower battery in here,” Coy said. “However, that spilled and destroyed our first box.”

      “Battery acid is not good for cardboard,” said Comer. “It tends to eat away at it and destroy it.”

      “And carpet,” Martin added.

      “You should see Ms. Cayci’s floor,” said Comer.

      “It took two science teachers and three janitors to help us clean that up,” Coy said.  The team persevered, though, and won first place.  “Our hearts were with this,” Coy said.

    Free Tax Preparation Volunteers Help Families File Taxes and Claim the EITC in Berea, Manchester

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • Program Provides Economic Boost to Families and Communities


      Berea (Ky.) — The Eastern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition, in partnership with Berea College’s Office of Externally Sponsored Programs, will operate a free tax preparation site on Berea College’s campus and Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus for families with income up to $50,000.  The Berea site will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. starting January 28.  The Manchester site will be open February 12 and 26, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

      IRS-certified volunteers will file taxes in Berea at the Bruce-Trades Building in room 226, and in Manchester in room 304. Appointments are required and can be made for the Berea location by calling Tracy Featherly at (859) 985-3276.  Appointments for Manchester should be made by calling Sylvester Lynn at (606) 598-1810 or (859) 358-5577.

      The Eastern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition is part of the Kentucky Asset Success Initiative (KASI). KASI is a coalition of agencies and organizations seeking to empower low- and moderate-income Kentuckians through a variety of asset-building programs. In 2012, KASI-operated sites helped 11,471 working families claim tax refunds totaling $16.9 million, generating $27.3 million of economic activity in their communities. KASI’s member coalitions will host more than 75 sites in 2013.

      This year, working families with three or more children and an income less than $50,270 (if married and filing a joint return) may be eligible for a maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) of $5,891. “The goal of the free tax preparation sites is to ensure that more eligible households claim EITC and receive their full refunds rather than paying preparation fees or being tempted by high interest refund-anticipation loans,” said Vickie Johnson, a tax site coordinator through KASI.  “For many families, a tax refund is the largest one-time influx of money all year, and the economic boost for individuals and communities is significant.”  The IRS estimates that as many as twenty percent of taxpayers who are eligible for the EITC do not claim it.

      Filers must bring the following documents to their appointment:

      -photo ID and social security card for each person on the return

      -all W-2 and/or 1099 forms

      -payments for child care expenses (plus name, address, EIN, or SSN of child care provider)

      -Form 1098-T (if applicable)

      -student loan interest paid in 2011

      -mortgage and property tax information

      -routing and account information for direct deposit

      -and a copy of your 2010 tax return (if available)

    Estill County High School Students Celebrate MLK Day by Volunteering

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • A group of students from Estill County High School traveled to Lexington Monday to volunteer as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration.  The students visited Transylvania University, where they made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Hope Mobile Outreach, a project that helps homeless men, women and children by offering food, clothing and healthcare.  Students also made Valentine’s Day cards for the Ronald McDonald Foundation and wrote letters to U.S. military service members stationed overseas.

      Front row left to right: Ashley Flynn, Whitney Innis, Brittney Viars, Jonica Davis. Back row left to right: Kristina Baker, Aleeza Costantino, James Enrique Strange, Sharon Niece.

      Ashley Flynn is the AmeriCorps Kentucky College Coach for Estill County High School and one of the event coordinators.  She said the trip was a success.  “Students who participated used their day off from school to help others,” she said. “It was a very fun day.”

      The event was the result of a partnership between the Kentucky River Foothills Youth Investment Project and Kentucky College Coaches.  Sharon Niece, the Youth Coordinator for the Youth Investment Project, provided transportation for the event, and participants from her project also attended.

    Owsley County Students Make Healthy Meals Tasty

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • The hallways of Owsley County High School filled with the smell of freshly baked goods, and students who followed their noses found the classroom where cooking was the day’s lesson.  “Kids have been excited all morning,” said Dustin Estridge, AgriScience teacher at OCHS.  “We’ve had students stop in and say, ‘What’s that smell?’  And remember, this is healthy, wholesome food.  And they’re coming by, ‘Hey, can I have a cupcake?’  And they’re these muffins that are super-healthy.”

      The bakers were students from Agriculture and Consumer Family Sciences classes, led by the instructor for the day, Chef Jim Whaley.  Whaley is the Chef Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program, the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, and Jefferson County Public Schools.  He also teaches community-based cooking classes, working with partners like the YMCA and the Boy Scouts of America.  “As a chef, I love getting to take the passion and love for cooking that I have and getting to share it, working side by side with students and teaching them skills that they might use on into their adult lives.”

      Whaley came to OCHS as part of a range of projects with the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  In the fall, elementary students attended food tastings in their school cafeterias, where they tried kale soup.  In the spring, Whaley will work with a student team as they create a recipe to enter into Kentucky’s Junior Iron Chef competition. “I love coming to Owsley County Schools because they have such a wonderful Farm-to-School Program working with their FFA and with the Ag classes,” he says.  “They bring in a wonderful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden. Then I can come in and work with the students on how to take those wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables that they’re already seeing, they’re already familiar with, because they’ve been working with these in the garden, through the farm-to-school program, or seeing them served in their cafeteria, and just add to that, and we can continue building on the notion of eating more fresh, healthy food. “

      The first recipe was for fresh, fall-winter butternut squash muffins.  “We take butternut squash puree and add it into a muffin recipe, so the students have been learning about properly mixing dry and wet ingredients, learning a little bit about healthy eating, healthy recipes,” Whaley said. “The muffin recipe also has olive oil in it instead of butter or regular oil.”

      While one side of the classroom was reserved for baking, the other side sizzled.

      “We’ve also been making a garden marinara,” Whaley explained.  “The students have been chopping fresh garlic, chopping onion, chopping fresh broccoli, and then I’ve shown them how to sauté. I brought my food mill, and we’ve been milling the tomatoes, and then they put the milled tomato juice in, and, with fresh basil, we’re cooking up a really nice marinara sauce.”

      Estridge was happy watching his chefs-in-training.  “The reaction has been great.  The students have been like, ‘Mr. Estridge, you have to eat this, this is so good.’  Kids don’t care if it’s healthy, or not healthy.  Kids care about what it tastes like,” he said.   “And Chef Whaley is helping us come up with healthy ways to utilize some of the fresh vegetables we’re using to basically entice our students to eat healthy, so I think it’s wonderful, I really do.”

      Noah Shelby, 17, is an 11th-grader at OCHS.  He decided to take Agriculture with no prior experience in the field and would recommend it to other students.  “It’s not a real working-class—you enjoy it, you get out and you have fun. You get outside, you get hands-on with it, you get to feel the experience of what you do.”  As for the two recipes, he is confident he can recreate them for any of the students who smelled the class projects but missed out on tasting them.  “Oh yeah, I could just make it right up for them,” he said.  “I might just do that.”


    Families and Schools Come Together in Jackson County

    • Posted on by Charlie Foster
    • 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


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

    • Posted on by Rachel Tsvetanov
    • 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


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