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Promise Zone aids local students, schools

The Kentucky Promise Zone is past the halfway mark for its 10-year commitment, and Harlan County continues to see positive improvements from the investment, according to Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley.

“The Promise Zone is having a positive impact on the counties of southeastern Kentucky,” Mosley said. “We are one of America’s only rural promise zones and certainly appreciate this federal designation that we have relied on in the past few years to provide support for grant applications we and other partners have applied for.

“The designation would not have been possible without the work of Congressman Hal Rogers, and it’s my hope that we will see additional support for Promise Zones such as special federal incentive packages developed for companies who locate within America’s Promise Zones in the future,” Mosley said. “This could certainly help us in our economic development efforts here.”

Harlan, Bell Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley 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 five to seven years, according to a report in the Middlesboro Daily News.

The impact is felt 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 Gear Up Grant through Berea College is one of the greatest funding benefits that have came from being in the Promise Zone. This grant has created numerous jobs in southeastern Kentucky working with our school children to provide them the additional support and resources they need to help them become more college and career ready,” Mosley said.

Shelly Lewis, academic specialist at Middlesboro High School, 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 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.”

“It is a really exciting time to be involved in education,” said Bobbie Dixon, the Gear Up service coordinator for the Harlan County School District. “One cannot underestimate the value of career and college preparation and the impact it has in the lives of our young people. We are doing so many things to get our kids career and/or college ready. This grant has provided numerous opportunities for the children of Harlan County that, otherwise, would be lacking in their educational growth.”

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.

“Our job is to get high school students prepared for either post-secondary education or some career goal,” said Harlan County High School college and career guide Holly Evans. “We try to utilize every opportunity to make a connection with students and/or parents by setting up at parent/teacher conferences, college and career fairs, and other events at the high school.

“As a college and career guide, I try to educate my students on all the opportunities that are out there with financial aid and scholarships so, hopefully, my students will graduate college with little to no debt. We take students on college visits so they can experience college life and prepare them for that next step after high school. We also focus on vocational studies for students who are interested in trade school. GEAR UP Promise Zone is an excellent resource for our area to improve the educational goals of our students in the Appalachian area.”

This is the fifth year of a seven-year grant in Harlan County.