FRANKFORT – Over the years, I have been proud to sponsor or support a number of educational programs, from the Kentucky Education Reform Act to the creation of the coal-county scholarships that help our college students stay close to home as they work on their four-year degree.
Ironically, some of our most enduring academic successes don’t actually take place during the school year or even in the classroom.
The most well-known of these is Governor’s Scholars, which have given thousands of our brightest students a chance to come together in a college setting each summer and learn in ways that aren’t always possible in a traditional setting. The program now consists of about 1,100 students, who stay on several campuses across the commonwealth.
Last year’s class did such things as launch a weather balloon to learn more about the stratosphere; stage a mock trial in a federal courtroom; study streams in Land Between the Lakes; and take field trips to the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy and University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute.
One of the program’s original goals was to keep more of these gifted students in Kentucky after high school, and regular surveys indicate this has largely been accomplished. Three-fourths of the Governor’s Scholars in 2013, for example, stayed here for college, and 80 percent of all alumni with a known address are still Kentuckians.
It’s worth noting that KET is presenting a documentary this month on GSP’s success. The last four showings are scheduled between Wednesday and Sunday this week.
Four years after Governor’s Scholars began, what is now known as The Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts was created. The three-week program has since served more than 5,000 students, giving them a chance to learn and practice in such areas as drama; vocal and instrumental music; dance; creating writing; and musical theater.
The newest Governor’s school began several years ago and is centered on tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. These students – about 60 each summer – are learning how to turn ideas into products and services and are gaining insight from those who founded or support start-up companies.
Several other long-standing programs active this time of year are geared toward younger teenagers. Western Kentucky University hosts two – the Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth (VAMPY) and the Summer CAMP for Academically Talented Middle School Students (SCATS) – while many colleges and schools have partnered to support the Governor’s Minority Student College Preparation Program.
In addition to these summer programs, Kentucky is also home to two specialty high schools that are putting a select group of high school juniors and seniors in a college setting during the school year.
WKU’s Gatton Academy has been called the nation’s best high school several times by Newsweek, while the Craft Academy, a similar school based at Morehead State University, is preparing to start its second year. It has all it needs to be ranked among the nation’s best as well.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly authorized more money to expand a dual-credit program that helps high school students take college courses as part of their daily curriculum.
Dual credit and Advanced Placement classes are giving these students a chance to earn a year or so of college credit before they graduate high school, a move that not only gives them a head start on a postsecondary degree but also potentially saves them thousands of dollars. The House tried to save these students and their families even more with a “Work Ready” scholarship plan that would have covered the remaining tuition costs for those graduating students pursuing a two-year college degree. We will try to get that enacted as soon as possible.
Overall, these programs play an important role when it comes to challenging our best and brightest throughout the year. It’s a relatively small investment, but it is one that will pay off for all of us for decades to come.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.