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Educators now have a new tool to help fight rising high school dropout rates in Kentucky and encourage students to stay in school and plan for their future careers.

Forward in the Fifth and The Center for Rural Development are launching a new dropout prevention video and discussion guide, the “Stay in School Toolkit,” which shares candid stories of eight individuals from rural Appalachia and how choices they made positively—and in some cases negatively—impacted their education and future.

The video subjects, including a professional baseball player, successful entrepreneur, Kentucky National Guard sergeant, and district court judge, talk about how they used education to advance their career goals. Conversely, students will also see a candid message from a person serving prison time, cautioning them against squandering opportunities to further their education.

A discussion guide also is included with the resource that encourages students to freely discuss messages in the video sessions and how those situations apply to their lives.

“Far too many young people are not staying the course and completing their high school education,” according to Jim Tackett, executive director of Forward in the Fifth, a nonprofit organization created to help raise the educational attainment levels in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. “The bottom line is that this decision is critically impacting them, their families, and communities in a negative manner.”

Starting in February, Forward in the Fifth and The Center will host a series of free training sessions in the region for educators and local leaders interested in using the “Stay in School Toolkit” in their community to help lower dropout rates.

The training sessions will take place at the following locations:

  • Feb. 3 at Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Ky.
  • Feb. 7 at The Center for Rural Development, Somerset, Ky.
  • Feb. 16 at The Forum at The Hal Rogers Center (in front of Hazard High School), Hazard, Ky.
  • Feb. 24 at the University of the Cumberlands, Williamsburg, Ky.
  • Feb. 28 the Mountain Arts Center, Prestonsburg, Ky.
  • March 20 (tentatively scheduled) at Morehead State University, Morehead, Ky.

Click here to pre-register for these sessions and complete the registration form.

All participants must pre-register prior to any of the scheduled sessions. Session times will be determined based on the number of participants, and registrants will be notified of those times.

Attendance at one of the regional training sessions is required before a school can receive and use the video and discussion guide.

The “Stay In School Toolkit” presents real stories from real people who have lived and worked in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

In the video, Josh Anderson, a professional athlete from Somerset, shares his dreams and challenges as he moved from high school to college, and ultimately to the ranks of Major League Baseball. His small-community experience gives Anderson a unique perspective as he pursues his life-long baseball career.

Additionally, Perry County District Judge Leigh Anne Stephens highlights her desire to obtain an education early in life. To combat the stereotypes and negative perceptions of people from Appalachia, Stephens chose to return to the area after completing her education and give back to her community in a meaningful way.

Prior to the video’s launch, Forward in the Fifth and The Center successfully piloted the “Stay in School Toolkit” with students at Perry County Central High School, Lawrence County Middle and High School, and three alternative schools in Fayette County Public Schools.

“Since the stories are true, it made me realize how easy it could be for me to mess up my life,” a high school student at Perry County Central High School said after viewing the video.

Another student at Lawrence County High School said she was inspired by the video to “try harder, graduate high school, and get my degree.” In Fayette County Public Schools, the stay-in-school message drove home a crucial point to one student: “It helped me think more about what I’m doing after high school.”

The “Stay in School Toolkit” is an extension of the work first started by retired NCAA head coach Lee Rose in partnership with Forward in the Fifth. Since 2004, Rose and his wife Eleanor have visited at least one school in each of the 42 counties within Forward in the Fifth’s primary service area inspiring more than 11,000 students to stay in school and use their education as a stepping stone for future success.

“It is our hope that this toolkit will provide some insight on the importance of obtaining a high school diploma and inspire all ages to achieve their full potential,” said Tackett. “The ultimate goal is to assist schools and communities in looking closer at their graduation and dropout rates.”

“Our young people need direction and there is no better start we can provide for their journey than expressing the importance of graduating from high school,” added U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), the visionary behind the creation of Forward in the Fifth and a strong advocate for education. “These toolkits guide the way for teenagers to achieve one of the best decisions they’ll ever make.”

Forward in the Fifth is an affiliate of The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.

For more information about Forward in the Fifth or the “Stay in School Toolkit,” call 606-677-6000 or email