A $6 million federal grant announced Tuesday will help Berea College repeat in Knox County some of the work that the liberal arts school has done in three other counties to improve student achievement.
If Congress approves, the total amount of money that might be available is $30 million over five years.
Since 2011, Berea College has used Promise Neighborhoods funding from the U.S. Department of Education for reading programs, tutoring, and arts and cultural offerings in Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties. The college will continue some of the services in those counties with private funding from other organizations.
The grant announced Tuesday is separate because the Department of Education wanted Berea College to replicate its work elsewhere, said Dreama Gentry, executive director for Partners for Education, an organization started at the college in 1995.
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The new “cradle to career” grant will serve more than 10,000 students in the Knox County, Barbourville Independent and Corbin Independent school districts. (Corbin is at the juncture of Knox, Laurel and Whitley counties.)
“We will start serving them from birth all the way up until age 24,” Gentry said.
She said the plans for Knox will include early-childhood programs to prepare children for kindergarten; services to improve academics, particularly English and math, for students from elementary through high school; a program to increase the number of high school students who are ready for college; and another program to help college students complete their higher education.
“We provide a lot of college and career readiness, starting as early as middle school, getting kids to start thinking about a career and starting to think about college,” Gentry said.
It’s that cradle-to-career approach “that makes this grant stand out,” said Kay Dixon, superintendent of the Barbourville Independent School District.
“The structure goes beyond anything we could do as a stand-alone school district or agency,” Dixon said. “The approach is to improve what we are doing in the schools but bring together local agencies to collaborate in ways we have never been able to do before.”
About 40 people will be focused on the work in Knox County. The college plans to open Promise Neighborhoods offices in Barbourville and in the Corbin area, Gentry said.
About 48 percent of the children in Knox County live in poverty, compared to a national average of 22 percent, according to information provided by Gentry.
The $6 million that Berea College will receive is nearly one-fifth of the total $33 million awarded to six recipients, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
Meanwhile, schools in Clay, Jackson and Owsley are using some of the strategies in tutoring to get students up to grade-level achievement. A combination of private funding and federal dollars will continue pieces of the work started in those counties, Gentry said.
For example, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provides $720,000 for an early-childhood program in Clay County, Gentry said.
“The Promise Neighborhood grant gave us the opportunity to show that we could do things that actually move the dial on kids’ achievement, and it attracted the Kellogg funding into Clay County,” she said.
The 2011 grant to Berea College for Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties was the nation’s first rural Promise Neighborhood. When the grant began to be implemented in 2012, 29.2 percent of the elementary students in those counties were proficient or above in math. In 2015-16, the most recent reassessment, 45.6 percent of the students achieved at those top levels.
The $6 million announced Tuesday represents the first year of funding, with additional years subject to future approval by Congress. “We have the promise of the dollars for five years, which will be $30 million total, and each year Congress has to put the money in the bank account for Promise Neighborhoods,” Gentry said.
Berea College matches the $6 million with $3 million, some of which includes in-kind contributions such as office space provided by the school districts. Another partner, Save the Children International, brings a match of nearly $1 million, Gentry said.
“This reflects that Berea really is connected to the communities we serve,” Gentry said. “We’re able to be that intermediary that can ... really have an impact for kids and families on the ground. We have shown through our previous work that kids are better off because of the work we’ve done through Promise Neighborhoods.”
There were 72 eligible applications for Promise Neighborhoods grants this year, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said during a conference call. The other grant winners announced Tuesday were in Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and two in California.