By Katheran Wasson
Two trends are clear when it comes to education in the bluegrass: Educators continue to shift their focus toward career readiness, and construction crews remain hard at work building a new generation of modern learning facilities for the region’s growing student population.
Fayette schools continue to grow
Rapid enrollment growth in recent years has touched off a series of school construction projects in Fayette County – several of which were completed just in time for the 2016 fall semester.
Two new elementary schools opened their doors to students in August: Garrett Morgan Elementary, located off Georgetown Road in northwest Lexington, and Coventry Oak Elementary, near Hamburg to the east. The schools cost $19 million each to construct, and each has room for up to 650 students.
Students at Squires Elementary, meanwhile, soon will enjoy an updated building thanks to $15 million in renovations. And work continues on Fayette County’s new and still-unnamed high school off Winchester Road. The $81 million project is scheduled for a July 2017 completion.
On the academic front, Fayette County Public Schools will establish Kentucky’s first Office for Educating Boys of Color with a $600,000 grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, the district announced in July. The most recent state testing data shows 28 percent of males of color scored proficient in math and 33 percent in reading. In comparison, 61 percent of white males were proficient in math and 67 percent in reading.
The grant will allow expanding existing programs and piloting new initiatives to help primarily black and Hispanic male students. Efforts are slated to include reading programs at elementary schools, after-school tutoring at middle schools and a dropout prevention effort and an ACT prep program at the high school level.
KCTCS focuses on job-ready skills
On a state level, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System announced its new strategic plan through 2022 aims to increase college attainment. The community college system intends to improve student success, emphasize hands-on learning and create programs that meet the needs of Kentucky’s employers while boosting job prospects for graduates.
Beginning this fall, KCTCS offers a free dual-credit class to public high school juniors, allowing them to earn high school and college credit at the same time. The $600,000 program aligns with Gov. Matt Bevin’s dual-credit initiative giving high school seniors the opportunity to take two college courses via the new Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship.
And in a collaboration with UK Health Care, Bluegrass Community and Technical College is offering a new pharmacy technician program this fall at its Leestown (Road) Campus. Enrollment for the first year is capped 20 students.
Statewide effort toward career-readiness
The Kentucky Department of Education in April secured a $100,000 grant to develop a detailed career-readiness action plan, part of a $75 million nationwide effort by JPMorgan Chase, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Advance CTE.
Kentucky’s long-term vision is for regional employers and educators to create rigorous career pathways that lead to industry certifications and credentials valued and recognized by the state and regional workforce.
Construction, construction everywhere
Construction projects continue at area universities, including UK in Lexington and Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.
UK’s newest Limestone Park residence halls opened in August for the fall semester, the result of a $83.9 million public-private partnership with EdR Collegiate Housing. Part of a transformative campus modernization, the new residence halls provide 1,141 beds for UK students, plus 25 active learning rooms. They replace Boyd, Holmes, Jewell and Keeneland halls.
A new $112 million Academic Science Building opened for classes this fall. The 263,000-s.f. facility provides modern, technology-rich classroom and lab space for undergraduate and graduate students.
On its campus 35 miles southeast, EKU reached a $37 million agreement with Aramark to provide food services for 15 years. Construction on a three-story, 55,000-s.f. dining facility begins this fall. Existing campus dining areas will be renovated as part of the contract also.
Combined with the construction of two new residence halls, $112 million in private investments is being made on campus, EKU President Michael Benson said. The suite-style residence halls opening in 2017 will bring 1,096 beds in updated facilities that the university said will reduce maintenance and utility costs while offering students modern amenities and conveniences.
“Amidst this period of decreased state funding, innovative partnerships afford us the opportunity to provide quality student housing that will improve the living and learning environment,” Benson said.
STEM remains in the spotlight
Toyota in April pledged $1 million to Georgetown College for programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM. Toyota’s funding emphasizes providing opportunities for future STEM teachers so that it creates a multiplier effect.
During the 2016-17 academic year, Georgetown College has an estimated 350 students pursuing degrees in STEM-focused fields. With support from Toyota’s grant, approximately $6 million will be awarded in direct aid scholarship funding to students in these fields of study.
In Western Kentucky, the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program awarded Murray State University a $250,000 grant to research the impact of gender-related beliefs and expectations on female STEM faculty. Specifically, the study will examine factors that affect recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty in STEM fields in Western Kentucky – an area report to be deficient in STEM education.
“We are hopeful that we can help Murray State make positive changes that will have a lasting impact on the number of women faculty in STEM,” researcher Maeve McCarthy said.
And in Louisville, students now have access to private, after-school STEM instruction via Zaniac, a nationally franchised educational program. Zaniac operations aim to make acquiring STEM skills fun while preparing students for 21st century jobs. Kentucky’s first campus serves Louisville metro and Southern Indiana.
Governor’s Scholars Program still strong
The Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program continued its efforts to enhance Kentucky’s next generation of civic and economic leaders. The program brought 1,060 rising high school seniors to three college campuses for five weeks of learning and hands-on experiences.
“Academics are extremely important to us, but our primary mission is to nurture the future leaders of our state in academics and beyond,” said Aris Cedeño, executive director.
GSP started with 250 students in 1983 on the campus of Centre College and has continued to grow. High school students apply as juniors, competing first against their classmates, and then across their school district, for one of the coveted spots. Approximately 2,000 applications reached the state level this year, Cedeño said.
Students selected for the program spent the summer at Murray State University, Morehead State University or Northern Kentucky University studying one of 25 majors offered, from astronomy to cultural anthropology, and philosophy to biotechnology. Students also take a second “general studies” component and a seminar.
There are no grades and no academic credits.
“Students are free to learn without the pressure of grades and the competition they face in high school or college,” Cedeño said. “We create a community of learners – when one succeeds, everybody does, when one fails everybody does – so they learn to explore who they are and what they do from a different perspective.”