Harlan County High School was the location for the third of six scheduled “listening sessions” for the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) Education and Retraining Working Group, part of the SOAR initiative.
Designed to examine concerns surrounding retraining and education in eastern Kentucky, the sessions are being held in order to find ideas and suggestions to be submitted to the SOAR executive committee.
Former Southeast Community and Technical College President Bruce Ayers and Reecie Stagnolia were chosen by SOAR Education and Retraining Chair Jeff Whitehead to lead the meeting.
Whitehead kicked the meeting off, saying the idea of the listening sessions were to get out in the area to research and get input to help move the region forward.
“The solutions to our problems are going to come from us,” said Whitehead. “We want to try to partner with federal and state agencies and other groups to try to help put some of those plans in motion.”
Ayers told the crowd of approximately 20 educators, local politicians and concerned citizens the SOAR organization will be a positive for the area.
“We have had opportunities to reinvigorate eastern Kentucky on any number of occasions,” said Ayers. “All too often however, the ideas came from well-meaning people from outside the area. For whatever reason, many of those ideas really never took.”
The evening focused on retraining and education, with the participants voicing their opinions on different ideas.
Participants took part in a survey consisting of 18 ideas that could be helpful for the area.
The most popular recommendation was providing support to all students via a counseling for a career approach to educational and career exploration that begins no later than the middle grades and continues through high school. This would be modeled after the Kentucky College Coach program, placing mentors in high schools to provide one-on-one support.
Another popular recommendation was to create apprenticeship programs for high school seniors and college students that would allow them to start working for a company and give them insight into a career path.
Cleon Cornett, one of the evening’s participants, pointed out education without some sort of apprenticeship program is not enough. According to Cornett, students would benefit as much from the hands-on experience as from the classroom.
Dan Mosley, who also attended the meeting, mentioned that students should receive more “practical living” training.
Other recommendations discussed included using a collaborative approach to help the region, loan forgiveness for returning to the region to work after college and developing a vision to create jobs, and combining the GED process with an occupations training program.
Joe P. Asher may be reached at 606-573-4510, ext. 1161 or on Twitter #joe_hde