United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Sand Gap Elementary School in Jackson County, Kentucky, on November 1 to participate in a roundtable discussion on Berea College’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Panelists included students, teachers, parents and Promise Neighborhood staff. The discussion focused on educational challenges and successes in rural America.
The Berea College Promise Neighborhood, which includes Clay, Jackson, and Owsley counties, is the first rural Promise Neighborhood in the United States. A federally funded initiative that provides deep community support for youth in the service area, Promise Neighborhood works with the counties’ youth from ‘cradle to career’ to ensure that each student has access to high-quality learning experiences and becomes college and career ready. They also help families support their students and work with communities so that children have a safe and healthy place to live and learn.
Duncan said that he was pleased to see this Promise Neighborhood first hand. “I love the work that’s going on here in this community. I love the sense of ‘cradle to career,’ getting babies off to a good start, and adding rigor in the elementary and middle schools, and having high school students start to take advanced placement classes, then not just send students on to college, but track them to make sure they get the support they need,” he said. “So, we are thrilled to be invested very, very heavily in this community. Just to hear the conversation and see the passion makes you very, very hopeful.”
Duncan’s trip was part of a week-long tour of Kentucky and Ohio, where he highlighted the work of rural schools. Acknowledging that students in the region need more access to technology and college, Duncan said that Kentucky’s recent history is cause for optimism. “At every level, whether it’s investing in early childhood, whether it’s literally being the first state to implement Common Core, Kentucky’s done an amazing job of raising expectations and adding rigor,” he said. “I don’t think any state has done more to increase access to AP, advanced placement classes, and not just access—passing rates have doubled the past few years.”
Though there is still work to be done, Duncan had a message for Kentuckians. “Kentucky should be extraordinarily proud of the progress,” he said. “None of these things are easy. But thinking about ‘cradle to career’ and thinking holistically, thinking how schools partner with non-profits, social service agencies, the business community, faith-based institutions—everyone has to come together on behalf of children.”
To find out more about the Berea College Promise Neighborhood, call 859.985.3857 or visit www.partners.berea.edu.
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This project is paid for by Federal Promise Neighborhood funds. Berea College has been awarded a five-year Promise Neighborhood Implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Education (2012- 2016) totaling $59,932,934, 50% ($29,966,467) Federal funds and 50% ($29,966,467) non-Federal funds.