The Data: In the Appalachian region of Tennessee, the percentage of the population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma is 12.4 percent, according to The Appalachian Region: A Data Overview from the 2017-2021 American Community Survey Chartbook, commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission and published in June 2023.
And in the Appalachian regions in other states where Americans Helping Americans®, the numbers only get worse from there: 13.6 percent in Georgia, 14 percent in Virginia, and Kentucky 19.1 percent, meaning that nearly one in five Appalachian residents in the state over the age of 25 did not graduate high school. In West Virginia, the only state located entirely in the Appalachian region, the percentage of those without a high school diploma is 11.9 percent, including the urban areas of Charleston and Huntington.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that compares with 9 percent across the country ages 25 and older with less than a high school diploma or equivalent in 2022.
In those same Appalachian regions, the percentages of those who graduated high school but earned no postsecondary degree were 48 percent in Georgia, 56.8 percent in Kentucky, 54.8 percent in Tennessee, 54.7 percent in Virginia, and 58.6 in West Virginia, according to the ARC chartbook.
The Need: In Kentucky, The Lexington Times reported in January on a recent survey exploring the challenges and resilience of Appalachian teachers by the Prichard Committee’s Teacher Fellows, which uncovered insights from educators in Kentucky’s Appalachian region, emphasizing the need for targeted support and resources.
According to the committee’s report, several issues stood out from the teachers’ responses: “Appalachian teachers strongly feel that fellow educators or leaders in other regions do not grasp the intense challenges created by the circumstances that Appalachian communities present for teachers.
“Generational poverty, a lack of economic development, and isolated populations test schools’ abilities to connect students with relevant experiences,” the report states. “Many educators in Appalachia feel like they lack resources and facilities to move students to level terrain with students from other regions of Kentucky.”
“Educators interviewed said that in classrooms, generational poverty produces a lack of motivation and basic needs not being met,” the report states. “For many students, the goal of college and career readiness can be meaningless, one educator said. “Poverty means many students do not possess adequate supplies or even food. Support systems are often lacking.” Another teacher said that generational poverty leads to students who perform below their capabilities and creates an erosion of community support for schools.”
And such is likely the case in rural regions of Appalachia in other states.
In February 2023, the Mountain State Spotlight published a report by Ryan Quinn, a statewide education reporter who “covered a public school system with record-low test scores, a teacher shortage, and deteriorating facilities,” who wrote: “Perhaps it goes without saying, but poverty, West Virginia’s most intractable problem, is likely what most strains its education system,” noting that McDowell County, where Americans Helping Americans® supports afterschool and vocational training programs, “constantly have among the state’s lowest test scores.”
Our Role: This is why Americans Helping Americans® supports education programs in distressed Appalachian communities, including McDowell County, Lee County, Kentucky, and Lee County, Virginia.
Afterschool Programs: Our education programs include afterschool programs to provide elementary schools with individualized tutoring to help them keep up with their classmates in their schoolwork.
In McDowell County, our partner, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA), offers an afterschool program for the youngest of students, remedial support for older students attending the county’s Career and Technology Center who need help passing tests necessary to follow their chosen career path, and an educational summer camp program to help elementary school students retain what they learned in school during the weeks of summer break.
In 2023, BCPIA’s afterschool program benefited 27 students, and 27 children participated in its three-week summer camp.
At the camp, participants did arts and crafts, watched movies, made bucket lists for the summer, made summer squishes (a drink), and took them to the city park a lot to run around and play with their friends. Most importantly, they were fed! The children were also taken on a two-night, three-day trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where they did many exciting and new things. The campers watched the Pirate Voyage Dinner Show, visited the Rainforest Zoo, where they met exotic animals, and swam in the pool by their cabin, which also had a lazy river, miniature golf, go-karts, and a fireplace to cook s’mores. It was an extremely important event for the children as many kids don’t get to leave their mountain community. They experienced new things, gained a different perspective on the world, saw new animals, and had to be responsible for their belongings and cabins. They also looked out for one another, and the older campers took the younger ones under their wing.
In Lee County, Kentucky, our partner, Cumberland Mountain Outreach (CMO), operates an afterschool program that serves at-risk youth. At the camp, these children not only received attention, which was so much needed by many, but also participated in numerous activities such as culinary arts, martial arts, dancing, and homework assistance.
David Evanoff of CMO mentions, “I’ve seen them grow from being self-centered to helping each other, taking responsibility for their actions, being more creative and expressing their opinions. The program helps build their coordination and provides males positive encouragement they don’t often get in other places.”
In Jefferson City, Tennessee, our partner, Appalachian Ministries of the Smokies (AMOS), operates an afterschool program for children at its Samaritan House shelter.
The afterschool program helps the students with learning as well as truancy issues. When children face housing crises, the students are usually behind and uninterested in structured learning. After-school programs help remedy that.
LAMP Ministries in Gainesville, Georgia, operates an afterschool program that served 180 individuals last year. The program serves high-risk teens and includes mentoring and counseling that helps the youth with problem-solving, anger management, and other skills.
Vocational Education. Americans Helping Americans® vocational support pays for tutors to help adults earn their GED and assist students with their homework so they can pass their classes. We also provide grant funding to BCPIA to fund tutors to help the career and technology center students with their coursework and studying for tests.
Often, the barriers to improving one’s professional status are exacerbated by poverty. Our Want2Work grant can help students pay for lab coats, smocks, professional equipment, certification tests, and any other expenses that hinder students from pursuing careers.
At the Lee County Career & Technical Center (LCCTC), people dropped out of their nursing program due to a $200 certification test at the end of Nursing III, on top of $100 for nurse attire, $630 for books, and $625 per semester of tuition for three semesters. The Want2Work program assists students and those interested in career changes with financial aid for this year.
Americans Helping Teachers.
Americans Helping Americans® initiated our Americans Helping Teachers program for teachers in the 2022-2023 academic year in recognition of the fact that district school funds are often insufficient to cover curriculum costs.
As our 2023-2024 Americans Helping Americans® Americans Helping Teachers grant recipients continue their journey to make their dream projects for their students and entire school community at the start of a new school semester, our inaugural cohort has completed theirs.
Among them is Destiny Ramey, an 8th-grade general science teacher and a 10th-grade biology teacher at the Lee County Middle/High School in Beattyville, Kentucky, who used her $5,000 AHT grant to purchase dissecting equipment and preserved animal specimens for her students to dissect, as well as enable them to type their blood and go on a field trip to an aquarium.
“This grant has made a huge impact on my teaching and my students,” Destiny stated in her final report.
Utilizing her grant funding, she reported that she was able to purchase not only enough preserved sharks for dissection for all of her 8th and 10th-grade students but enough for the school’s juniors and seniors as well “since they had never had the opportunity to dissect anything in the whole time they had been in K-12 – a total of more than 200 students.
“The project for 10th-grade students focused on the shark’s niche in its ecosystem and how it is considered a keystone species in ocean ecosystems,” she explained. “The project for 8th grade focused mostly on anatomy and the physiology of sharks, but they had a quick introduction to their benefits to the ecosystem as well.”
In Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, teachers at the Rush Strong School Renee Foraker and Lauren Sexton used their $4,000 AHT grant to create a mental health space known as an Amygdala Recalibration Station, which is being used as a proactive measure for students to take a break in their day to retrain their brain and refocus before returning the classroom.
“Students can use this space when they are feeling overwhelmed, have a behavior outburst, or need a safe space. Students recognize that the Amygdala Recalibration Station is used to reset their brain and not to play,” they told us.
Students have used this space when they are feeling overwhelmed, have a behavior outburst, or need a safe space, and “by the end of the year, students were able to advocate for themselves when they needed the space.
“We are so grateful for the opportunity to provide these spaces to our students,” they stated. “We have seen an improvement in student behavior and ability to self-regulate.
“We appreciate the generosity of the Americans Helping Teachers grant and look forward to seeing how it will continue to impact our students for years to come.”
For the 2023-2024 school year, Lisa Banner, a teacher at the Forest Area School District in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, received an Americans Helping Teachers grant to purchase a school therapy dog, and at the Rush Strong School in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, special education teacher Kelli Smith received grant funding to create a segregated classroom for children with special needs, known as “comprehensive development classrooms (CDC),” as pursuant to Tennessee law.
“My students work hard to overcome challenges that many other students are not faced with,” explained Kelli in her request for AHT grant funding. “Around half of the class is faced with a challenging home life. In the past, the CDC class has been in the back of the school and kept to themselves. Recently, we have worked very hard on including our CDC class in the general population.
“This grant would provide opportunities for my class to experience life skills opportunities that they otherwise would not be able to experience. Some experiences include running a class coffee cart business for teachers in the school, planning, shopping, and cooking a Thanksgiving Feast for some teachers, developing Plainsmen Pals, a new peer tutoring program, and so much more.”