PRESTONSBURG – Six months of student-centered classroom redesigns, technical project-based learning, on-campus gardening, leadership exchanges, and much more culminated in 150-plus presentations on April 27 in Pikeville. More than 1200 people showed up and over 5,000 joined by live stream for the 2nd Annual Action Research Summit. Thousands of social media posts generated by #ARIaction16 and WYMT-TV coverage shared the undeniable story of East Kentucky’s leading innovation in rural education.
The event kicked off among the buzz of robots, flight simulators, plane restoration, student art, a coding challenge, and youth-centered makerspaces, all surrounding a brand new Mobile Inquiry Learning Laboratory (MILL). Dr. Jeff Hawkins, Director of Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), welcomed the over 6,000+ assembled and tuned in with an award of excellence to 5th grade Megan Ferguson of Paintsville Independent, for her dedication to learning by using robot telepresence to attend class even when her cancer treatments kept her away from school this year. Digital Promise, congressionally authorized to accelerate innovation in education, then announced KVEC’s designation as a national Education Innovation Cluster with a highly anticipated video premiere featuring all seventeen school districts and the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI).
Twelve teachers from Floyd County were among the 150 teacher presentations: Carole Bentley and Coley Martin of Allen Central Middle; Amy Howard and Greta Gilbert of Prestonsburg High; Angie Watts of Prestonsburg Elementary; Kayla McKinney of Allen Central High and Kelly Boles, Christina Crase, Cortney Flannery, Patricia Hackworth, Sandy Mims and Shannon Shepherd of Betsy Layne High. Each of these teachers received an ARI $1,000 Learning Innovation Grant to use in their classrooms in innovative ways. Betsy Layne High School Principal, Cassandra Akers, and BLHS Math Teacher, Ricky Thacker, were involved in the Appalachian Leadership Laboratory capstone sessions. “Media Center Redesign” and “Innovative Learning Spaces”.
Floyd County students were also highlighted as four Betsy Layne High School student were winners in the Virtual Art Gallery: Sarah Akers, Taylor Bush, Abby Hamilton, and Vanna Vance. Adams Middle School placed third in the Middle School Entrepreneurship Fair under the direction of Norm Marcum.
In 2013, Floyd County Schools, KVEC and sixteen additional school districts in southeastern Kentucky were awarded a highly competitive Race to the Top District grant by the U.S. Department of Education. With this support, KVEC launched its Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI) to share resources across the region, personalize student and professional learning, empower leaders, revitalize local communities, and prepare students for next-generation college and career paths. The next round of ARI classroom learning innovations will be showcased similarly at the East Kentucky Expo Center on October 26.