In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.
Kim Barber, founder and executive director of the Color of Education, talks about the programs her Georgetown-based organization has developed to encourage marginalized students to pursue postsecondary education and how it will be expanding some of those programs as it begins its second decade of service.
Q: Could you describe the mission of The Color of Education?
A: Our mission is to serve and encourage students who are coming from marginalized populations, such as minorities, low-income or at-risk, to be successful in any postsecondary education. While college readiness and preparation is part of our program, postsecondary is our focus and that goes beyond college, because postsecondary can look very different for each person. It can be two-year or four-year program, it can be technical school or a certificate program. Our philosophy is that everyone needs some kind of postsecondary education, and we want to help them be successful in that postsecondary education.
Q. The Color of Education celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. When you started this program, was it because you felt there was not enough support for these kids within the schools to navigate whatever path they needed to take next?
A. Definitely. I have always seen a need for more help and assistance in navigating success in education for the marginalized populations. More students were being lost and not being discovered and nurtured to their full potential in education, especially in rural areas. The Color of Education only services rural areas because I felt that in urban areas there were already lots of sources and resources, whereas rural areas didn’t have that. Students in rural areas were being told that they could come to the urban areas to use the resources, but statistics show that one of the challenges for the marginalized group is transportation. I felt like we needed to bring the resources to them.
Q. Tell me about the resources you have been bringing to these rural school systems for the past decade.
A. We offer two programs: the Power Schools and the Color of Education conferences. The Power Schools program is where we do our mentoring outreach. We come to the Power Schools once a month during the school year. At each school, we have a student leadership board and an administrative board and we meet with them and mentor them on a number of topics. The topics are things that can make them successful in postsecondary, topics like scholarships, leadership, interviewing, study skills, tutoring, college searches in the state and beyond, careers, FAFSA matches, borrowing money for education.
Q. To accomplish your mission, you partner with many other institutions and organizations, I understand.
A. Yes, we collaborate with several universities, including Transylvania, Western Kentucky University and Eastern Kentucky University. We also work with community colleges. They all bring different things to our program. For example, if I need someone to talk about study skills, these colleges don’t have a problem sending someone to talk to my students.
Q. What age students do you work with at the Power Schools?
A. We mainly work with juniors and seniors as they are the ones who will be graduating within a few years. We do have some sophomores as well and sometimes we try to have a freshman involved to build awareness, so they can go back and share information with their classmates.
Q. How many students are in the program at each school?
A. With the funding we have, we can serve 120 students at each school.
Q. How are they selected to participate in the program?
A. They are chosen by the administrative team at each school because those teams know the students and can let us know which students fit the criteria of being in a marginalized population. Among the categories of marginalized students is “at-risk.” That is a broad category that can include students that might not fit within the racial or socioeconomic categories but who are still marginalized. For example, we had a student at one school who was doing well in school but plummeted after losing a parent. We felt that the student was at-risk in terms of postsecondary education because of that life situation.
Q. How many school systems are involved in the program now?
A. There are four counties in the program: Scott, Harrison, Madison and Clark counties. Other schools have asked to be in the program, but we weren’t taking any schools at the time (the beginning of last year) because we were looking for additional funding. We are still looking for funding, but we would like to add at least one new school system in 2017.
Q. Are schools that are involved required to make a financial commitment to the program?
A. Yes, they are asked to put in part of the money required to run the program so they have made an investment in their own students. We do have sponsors as well, and the schools can get sponsors to help pay for their part of the program.
Q. Is it a flat fee or based on the size of the school system?
A. It is a flat fee. Our staff will work with smaller school systems to help them find more sponsors. The more sponsorships a school can get, the less the system has to pay.
Q. About how much might a school system be expected to invest in the program?
A. It would be $3,000 to $3,500 for a whole school year. That is to provide the program for 120 students. And that is just for the Power Schools program.
Q. The other aspect of your programming is one-day conferences. Tell me about those.
A. Because this was our 10th anniversary, we had our annual conference at a hotel this year but normally, we have the conferences on college campuses. We have had conferences at Georgetown College and at Transylvania University and in 2017 we plan to have some at other universities. We go to universities because we like the students to get a feel for being on a college campus – for some, it is the first time they’ve been on one.
Q. What are some of the elements of the conferences?
A. We always have a motivational speaker. This year it was an attorney who was a graduate of Scott County High who is now an attorney in Washington, D.C. We always try to have a speaker with ties to the area.
The conference is always fun and lively with a lot of different sessions. We’ll have an ACT prep person, banks to talk about financial literacy, representatives from the state to talk about the FAFSA and KEES money. We do mock interviews – an admissions counselor interviews students chosen from the audience. There are representatives from colleges and universities in Kentucky as well as some from other states like Ohio and Tennessee. We also do lots of giveaways with the help from our sponsors and we feed everyone lunch.
Q. You also bring back some of the program’s graduates who are in college to speak to the high school students?
A. Yes, we have a college panel and it is one of the favorite sessions. When our students go to college, that is not the end of our program’s ties to them. If they run into snags, they can reach out to us. And our students, they come back and sit on the college panels and answer questions.
Q. How are the conferences received?
A. Based on evaluations, our average score is 4.87 out of 5 for effectiveness. A lot of the kids who attend aren’t thinking about postsecondary, but after attending the conference, they are saying, “Yes, I can do this.”
Q. You have said the Color of Education is always striving to evolve and expand its services and in early December, your board decided to expand programming in a new way. Can you explain?
A. Yes, we are going to have regional conferences. At this point, we are not sure how many we will have, but by doing regional conferences, we will be able to impact more of the state, serving a minimum of three counties per conference. If possible, we’d like to hold some of these on college campuses so the students can have that experience.
Q. Are there other new things the organization has done or is planning to do?
A. We awarded our first scholarships, two of them, in 2015. We are getting ready to give computers to some of our student leadership boards. We do focus groups with our student leadership boards and we ask them what is needed with the program. We are also trying to do more partnerships with universities and programs on their campuses. We don’t know what that will look like or when that will happen. They want to work with us on retention and graduation for marginalized students.
Q. You talk about kids who show you their acceptance letters, and tell you that they never would have even applied for postsecondary programs without The Color of Education. Are these successes making a difference in your funding efforts?
A. No, unfortunately that is one of the things we are really finding a challenge. Even with all our successes, we are not getting the right connections yet. We hope that with continued networking and connections we will get the right matches and get the funding.