HAZARD — When educators and learners are equal partners in building their classroom environments, communities, and possibilities the results are unprecedented. Resources and ambition can make all the difference. Six months of student-centered classroom redesigns, technical project-based learning, on-campus gardening, leadership exchanges, and much more culminated on April 27 in Pikeville. Nearly 1200 people gathered at the East KY Expo Center, with an additional 5,000 by live stream, to spotlight 150+ innovations at 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 makerspace, all surrounding a brand new Mobile Inquiry Learning Laboratory (MILL). Dr. Jeff Hawkins, director of Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), welcomed the 6,000+ assembled and tuned in with an award of excellence to 5th grade Megan Fergerson of Pikeville 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).
Junior Student Senator from Hazard High School, Stacie Fugate also welcomed the large crowd and provided suggestions for the day-long event.
Hundreds of students performed, displayed art, sold entrepreneurial creations, facilitated sessions, and helped to live stream, tweet, and capture digital stories throughout the event. Three school districts were awarded a combined $45,000 for Building It Forward tiny house project proposals to be exhibited at the 3rd annual event next Spring. Two students won new laptops in the #CodeAppalachia coding challenge tie, and all 150 teachers were given certificates of excellence for their ARI leadership. Their projects, pictures, and video presentations can be found at Summit.theholler.org.
Five teachers from Hazard Independent were among the 150 teacher presentations. Billie Bowling and Ashley Haynes, along with 13 students from the Hazard Middle School sixth grade, presented “Market Mania, A personalized Approach to Economics” and “Blended Learning Sixth Grade Mathematics”, respectively. Ms. Bowling’s entrepreneurial students displayed their winning projects at the event. In addition, Anne Kuhnen and two of her geometry students from Hazard High School made the real world connections to geometry in her “Geometric Garden” presentation. Roy G. Eversole’s Computer teacher Sherri Cornett presented on “Engaging Students through Creative Technology.” “Leap Into Kindergarten” was the title of Starla Fannin’s presentation on learning
through motion. Each of these teachers received an ARI $1000 Learning Innovation Grant to use in their classrooms in innovative ways.
Hazard Independent ARI Innovation Coordinator Vivian Carter, along with four STLP students from Hazard High School were actively involved in the Appalachian Leadership Laboratory capstone sessions. “Redesigned Learning Space” in collaboration with the STLP Student project “Scholastic Spaces” was a combined effort to promote 21st century principles of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking in a learning environment. The Hazard Middle School Chorus, 92 members strong, under the direction of Brittany Thompson entertained the lunch crowd with renditions of “I Want You Back”, “One Call Away”, “Hello” and “Burn”. Their harmonizing voices combined in an amazing performance that propelled the thousand plus participants to the afternoon sessions.
In 2013, Hazard Independent, KVEC and sixteen additional member school districts in rural 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 KY Expo Center on October 26.