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Thelma White stressed a quality education and genuine love for learning are weapons that can be used to better society and fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
White, president and CEO of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, served as keynote speaker for the 22nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Celebration and Lottie Offett Robinson Scholarship Fundraiser on Monday at Pritchard Community Center.
The celebration notes King’s lasting mark by championing the talents of local students, who train their creative muscles by producing essays, poetry and posters based on an annual theme.
This year’s theme, “What Can I Become Through Education?”, was embodied in White’s speech as she spoke of her roots and the sacrifices she made to fulfill her personal dreams.
White participated in sit-in demonstrations as a young activist and said 2013 marks not only the annual celebration of King’s life but the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Monday also saw the inauguration of President Barack Obama for a second term.
White said these civil rights milestones come at a time when King’s message is still fertile with homelessness and poverty weighing on families and children. She chided the latest statistics on poverty and homelessness amongst children as a “disgrace” and said children cannot hold their attention on school work if they are dealing with hunger or other personal issues.
She commended Hardin County Schools for providing a free breakfast to all students.
“I know for some children that may be the best meal of the day,” she said.
White also challenged students not to “shortchange themselves in their younger years” or rule out college because of their academic status or financial situations.
“I wasn’t rich,” she said. “I didn’t have a silver spoon in my mouth, but I had a determined mind.”
White said she learned to read at an early age and had a strong affinity for books, making trips to the library a weekly ritual. Even now, she said, she soaks up learning and has books scattered around her home.
“Don’t substitute reading for TV, texting or not reading at all,” she said.
White said she always looked for challenges and chose the hardest classes in order to push herself. By the same token, students must be willing to make sacrifices and work for promotions and enhancements in life, seeking out job qualifications and striving to meet those expectations.
White said ECTC has tutoring programs in place to help those who are not academically prepared for college. The college also is committed to increasing the number of college graduates by 2020.
White said the U.S. must be prepared to stay competitive within the global economy to ensure stops stay stateside. This trickles down to the local economy as companies look for an educated work force, she said.
White said educators also must assure students college is an available and attainable option by helping students prepare for higher education and qualify for scholarships.
White later helped unveil a 2013 postage stamp commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation.
Hardin County Schools Superintendent Nannette Johnston said her district is working to shore up the achievement gap through its Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which focuses on average and often neglected students, typically with GPAs of 2.5 to 3.0, not normally serviced by special education or gifted education programs.
Carlos Acevedo, a junior at John Hardin High School, moved to the U.S. from Mexico roughly three years ago with no comprehension of the English language. He said he struggled initially to keep pace and used American television to help fill in the gaps of his English-as-a-second-language lessons.
Acevedo feared college was nothing more than a pipe dream but was told he tested well and was recommended for the AVID program.
He quickly learned it was not an easy class and sometimes wondered if the work was more than he could bear, but the determination and strong will noticed in him by his teachers has paid dividends as he has grown comfortable in his surroundings. He also has gained more confidence in his abilities through AVID and does not fear ridicule when he stumbles. He plans to learn a third language.
“It’s a place I feel safe making mistakes,” he said.
Lauren Gallaway, a John Hardin graduate and freshman at the University of Louisville, said she joined AVID because her best friend was in the program and spoke highly of it, detailing how much fun the class had as a group.
Like Acevedo, she found the course work daunting but said the program better prepared her for college. To show its success, she said the bulk of her class is now enrolled in college and most are maintaining scholarships and grade point averages of 3.0 or higher.
Johnston said the program teaches students studying and note taking skills and proper time management while expecting them to sign up for advanced classes. She told the group that the students helped put a personal spin on numbers and show what the district is accomplishing.
“Results matter,” she said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the 22nd year, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Celebration included recognition of talented students.
Essay winners, grades 10-12: Hannah Godfrey, Elizabethtown High; first; Kassey VanMeter, North Hardin, second; Chante Hicks, John Hardin, third.
Poetry winners, grades six-nine: Taylor Thomas, T.K. Stone Middle School, first; Anaya Singleton, J.T. Alton Middle School, second; William Elliott, T.K. Stone, third.
Poster winners, grade three-five: Jahiem Ashley, Helmwood Heights Elementary, first; Rabia Nasir, Helmwood Heights, second; Dalicia Alexander, Woodland Elementary, third.
Poster winners, kindergarten-grade two: Trevon Alexander, Woodland Elementary, first; Kaleb Gregory, North Park Elementary, second; Emma Musgrave, Morningside Elementary, third.