Last fall, we launched a new school-based program for eighth and ninth grade students in Knott and Letcher Counties and we’ve had a great first semester! Approximately 285 students in twenty classrooms participate in weekly educational peer lead group meetings and community service learning while receiving positive adult guidance and support. The curriculum aims to teach life skills, assist in building healthy behaviors, connect youth to their communities, and develop in them a sense of purpose.
The first lesson of the Appalachian Scholars’ Program for each class centered around compiling group rules. After being guided through a quick overview of the program and expectations, each group developed their own set of classroom rules. Nearly every class included in their list of rules to respect one another and differing opinions of others, no bullying or treating one another unkindly and to respect the feelings and privacy of fellow classmates and the personal information they may choose to share within the group. Most classrooms have at least one student that has taken the lead and calls the class to order when necessary and ensures that the rules they each chose to put in place, and signed their names to, are being followed.
Other recently conducted sessions included discussions and activities on defining the circles of the students’ local community; understanding self-esteem and building confidence in their abilities; exploring healthy friendships and relationships; and developing a set of core values to guide their life.
Each session and discussion is primarily youth led, interactive, and intended to be a fun learning experience. One student who participates in one of the groups that meet on Mondays said, “I love that we have this [meeting] on Monday because it sets my week off on a positive note.”
An important portion of the program is community service learning. Youth are required to complete 20 hours of community service as a group; some may choose to collaborate with other Appalachian Scholars’ Program groups as well. Several classes have already chosen their projects. Some of the choices have been visits with the residents of the Veteran’s Center, fundraisers for the local homeless and animal shelters, and visiting with and bringing gifts to residents at the nursing home.
The Appalachian Scholars Program utilizes research-based curriculum from the Wyman Center that data has shown to result in a 52% lower risk of school suspension, a 60% lower risk of academic course failure, and a 53% lower risk of pregnancy, for those who complete the program; with an observed 60% lower risk of school dropout. We look forward to sharing our program impact upon completion of the program later this spring.
Above photo: One of the Appalachian Scholars’ Program groups at Carr Creek Elementary School.