SOMERSET, Ky.—Leading regional efforts to tackle the state’s growing number of high school dropouts, Forward in the Fifth and The Center for Rural Development partnered with Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear to host a regional dropout prevention summit on Dec. 9 at The Center aimed at raising public awareness about how to engage and keep more students in school and on the pathway to success.
Beshear joined community leaders, school officials, and around 250 students from four high schools in Pulaski County at a one-day conference, “STAARS Summit: A Community Approach,” continuing her push to challenge today’s youth to take a proactive approach to their education and make plans for the future.
STAARS—which stands for Students Taking Action to Achieve Real Success—is the last of seven regional meetings held across the state in partnership with Graduate Kentucky, a statewide dropout-reduction initiative which emphasizes working at the local level to keep students in school.
“As we conclude the Graduate Kentucky Regional Summits, I would like to thank all of those who have taken a vested interest in turning the tide on our dropout problem and in strengthening our state, one community at a time,” Mrs. Beshear said. “The work we have undertaken does not end. The conversations we have started must now be turned into community-based actions and a statewide effort to empower every child in Kentucky with a high school education.”
After delivering the opening remarks, Mrs. Beshear met with student representatives on the STAARS Planning Committee and pre-selected group of students representing Pulaski County, Somerset, and Southwestern high schools and Somerset Christian School for more than an hour in a “fireside chat” to get their input on what steps could be taken to reduce the dropout rate and keep more students interested and engaged in continuing their education.
Heather Boatman, a member of the STAARS planning committee and senior at Pulaski County High School, said she supported legislation that would increase the dropout age to 18 as a way to deter high school students from dropping out.
The current dropout age in Kentucky is 16, which was adopted back in 1920 when children would routinely leave school to work on farms or in coal mines.
“I think (raising the dropout age) will help a lot because by the time you are 18 years old you are pretty much a senior and you have already made it most of the way through high school,” Boatman said after attending the student panel discussion with Mrs. Beshear. “Why quit when you are about ready to graduate?”
Forward in the Fifth, a non-profit organization formed in 1986 by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) and a group of business and community leaders to reverse low educational attainment levels in the Fifth Congressional District, is working with Mrs. Beshear and Graduate Kentucky to tackle the high school dropout problem on a regional level in Southern and Eastern Kentucky by partnering to host the STAARS Summit.
“The engagement of educators, students, and community leaders to solve key education issues is central to the original vision of Forward in the Fifth when created more than 20 years ago,” executive director Jim Tackett said. “Identifying relevant solutions by those who live and work in a given community is the true answer.
“That is what is so exciting about this Summit,” he added. “Everyone is working together to decrease student dropout and elevate the value of education in this county.”
During the first half of the program, students participated in a series of high-energy, informational break-out sessions—including College Reality and fun-filled game based on the popular television show “Jeopardy”— to get them thinking about their future. These sessions addressed topics such as high school prep, college admission transcripts, and financial aid.
After lunch and an inspirational message by keynote speaker Hasan Davis, students attended short “Buzz Sessions” presented by career professionals working in the areas of professional sports, medical, engineering and math, human services, laws, performing arts, business and entrepreneurship, and military service.
“The sky is the limit for our young people, communities, and region when we realize the potential and opportunity education can provide,” Tackett said. “We must encourage, model, and challenge one another to be lifelong learners and explore the possibilities. Education is a key ingredient in transforming Southern and Eastern Kentucky.”
Information shared at the Summit will be used by members of a local College Access Planning Committee to make recommendations about ways to create more opportunities to get and keep high school students excited about education and the possibilities it can hold for them.
“STAARS Summit: A Community Approach,” a name chosen by local students on a multigenerational committee that helped organize the event, was sponsored in part by the Governor’s Office, Forward in the Fifth, The Center for Rural Development, Somerset Community College, Graduate Kentucky, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, GEAR-Up Kentucky, Kentucky College Access Network, and America’s Promise Alliance.