Will Nash: Inspiration plentiful in E. Ky. education efforts

Will Nash of Hazard is a University of Kentucky graduate and founding executive director of Teach For America-Appalachia.
Will Nash of Hazard is a University of Kentucky graduate and founding executive director of Teach For America-Appalachia.

As I see it, the glass is half full in Eastern Kentucky.

Three years ago, when I said I was moving here, people pelted me with questions about my motivations and understanding of the current reality. Every community has its challenges and Eastern Kentucky is no exception. As an educator, I was energized by school districts' efforts to implement Kentucky's new content standards and the reforms in Senate Bill 1.

Despite obstacles, our districts are moving at lightning pace to ensure students get a great education. The education we offer them today serves as the seed of future economic opportunity; we must not lose sight of that connection.

When I think of my community's assets, some of the words that come to mind are resilience, ingenuity and hospitality. I see these qualities every day, and they are strengths we must harness for the future.

I'm awed by the resilience of students at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County. With little warning and just a few days before school started, they relocated the contents of their school building. The entire community pitched in to ensure a smooth transition and the school culture was strengthened because of the shared challenge.

I'm inspired by the ingenuity of educators like Alix Smith and Steph Tanner, who partnered with students and the Knox County community to raise more than $15,000 to send students from Barbourville and Lynn Camp high schools to Honduras last summer. The trip was such a success that they're currently raising money for a trip to Peru.

Lastly, I'm truly heartened by the hospitality of Eastern Kentuckians who've welcomed me and my Teach For America colleagues into their homes. One of our teachers in Letcher County remarked that, for the first month that he lived in Whitesburg, he never had a meal at home or alone — the community truly embraced him.

These are just a few of the strengths the people of our region will bring to the goals of the Shaping our Appalachian Region planning process.

Education has to be a foundational piece. There is no economic silver bullet, but offering every student an equitable education is a critical first step to putting our region's students on a path to careers in the cutting-edge, high-wage industries we want to attract.

Let's leverage our strengths and capitalize on this renewed momentum to tackle tough conversations about education.

While only half full now, our cup can run over.

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