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School district gets $100K grant

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Money will help plan early college program

By Geoff Hamill

A $100,000 grant coming to Washington County is intended to help students be more prepared for college.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has been calling on public school superintendents and boards of education to sign a pledge to improve college and career readiness in their schools. The grant coming to Washington County should be a big step in that direction, and the local school district is one of just six in the state to receive the grant.

“The grant is about college and career readiness,” said Superintendent of Washington County Schools Robin Cochran. “We have received a grant that will help the school district plan for early college for our students. This is not for implementation, but for planning. It starts now and goes to June 30.”
Cochran said the grant will help the school district plan for its students to be ready for college or a career after high school. Locally, the plan is to take the approach of what is called early college, which is a concept of a college within a high school, according to Cochran. She said the new program will be different from AP, or advanced placement courses, and will provide credit hours, with the possibility of a student having an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school.
The program will be geared toward students who are juniors in the fall of the 2011-12 school year, and it will target, but not be limited to, students who are from a low socio-economic background, are on free or reduced lunch, are first-generation college students, English language learners, and African-American students. Cochran said the African-American population is the main area of focus because data shows that such a great number of Washington County’s African-American students do not go on to college.
“We want to make sure all parents know that if someone is outside those categorical sub populations, and a child or parent desires it, we’re not going to say no. Our target population right now is about 20 to 30 students out of a class of 140 (the junior class), which is about 20 percent of that group,” Cochran explained.
With the option of early college, Cochran said some might ask why students would not just take this option, rather than facing the more rigorous AP classes, which require students to pass a test upon completion.
“If you know your child is going to a four-year college, or going into a field where they need rigorous preparation such as for pre-med, engineering, or even education, the AP classes will give them the rigor they need. AP will prepare them for this area,” she said. “Early college will as well, but their senior year, if they decide they want to go with something on the tech track, or to attend ECTC (Elizabethtown Community Technical College) and receive a work technology certification, during their senior year we will look at these kids, and once they decide a route, there is counseling for both programs. This way they don’t take a bunch of courses and then those courses not count for anything.”
When a student participating in early college graduates, Cochran said they will have obtained 60 college hours.
“I can’t imagine having that opportunity. I was one of those first generation college goers. Within my family, there was no one there to say to me, ‘You need to go to college.’ So this will be exciting. The kids will have support. It may not be relatives or family, but the teachers are going to be telling them how to get to college.”
After the program is in place, Cochran said the state will not be giving direction of how things should be done. She said the school district will be allowed to develop the program as it goes.
“I’m really excited about it. This is the 21st Century, and we truly are taking steps to provide the students of Washington County with every opportunity to have a career and be able to financially support their families,” Cochran said. “This will change Washington County, as well. I’m hoping it will lower our unemployment rate and the number of families in need of services. We hope to have more students come back to Washington County and stay here where they got their education.”
The program will not be solely operated through Washington County High School. Two local higher education partners, St. Catharine College and the Springfield campus of the Elizabethtown Community & Technical College will also work with the local school district. Cochran and Washington County High School Principal Paul Terrell both said they look forward to the partnership with those higher learning institutions.
“We’re just thrilled to be selected as part of the early college grant. Students will have wrap-around support with Washington County High School, as well as St. Catharine College and ECTC. It’s a joint partnership to make students successful, and we’re targeting the students who may not have the urging and extra motivation that we might be able to provide for them,” Terrell said. “They can get those early college hours here at home in Washington County, and after earning a two-year associate’s degree, they can be better prepared to get a baccalaureate degree.”
Terrell added that he and counselors at the high school have been working to create a list of students who would have interest in or benefit from the program, and he said he hopes to have students, as well as parents, talk with him and express interest in the program.
“If you’re interested in the program, or if you have questions or feel your child might fit in this category, we’d love to have you call and talk with us about it,” Terrell said.