EARNing their way to a better future

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Linda Wahl, left, talks with Jazzy Weaver, a senior at the Emmerson Academy, Thursday in the lobby at Independence Bank during a kickoff celebration reception for the EARN pilot project. Wahl is a mentor for Weaver and will help her with the financial incentive portion of the project.

A limo pulled into the parking lot at Independence Bank's Frederica Street location Thursday afternoon.

Ten smiling Owensboro Public Schools students climbed out and walked into the bank. It marked a big day for them and Care for Children's Emerson Academy Resilience Network.

The students were handpicked for the EARN pilot program. On Thursday, they opened work-study incentive bank accounts.

If they come to classes on time, participate in a work-study program and attend a specially designed life-skills curriculum, these at-risk students can earn up to $3,000 this academic year. They must graduate to receive the incentive pay, which can be used for continuing education or to assist with the expenses of finding work.

"This is real-world stuff for them," Kevin Thompson, OPS director of alternative schools, said of EARN. "It's more than they will get from a book or computer program."

Emerson Academy, formerly known as Gateway Academy, is an alternative high school that serves about 85 students. The EARN pilot program was designed to offer 10 students a financial incentive to attend classes and graduate from high school. The pilot also provides mentors to guide them.

EARN is a partnership between OPS and Care for Children, a newly formed "incubator for ideas" that seeks to provide hope and resiliency to Daviess County children.

The 10 students selected for the EARN pilot are Josh Bradley, Willie Castro, Waylon Davis, Miguel Aguliar, James Combs, Jazzy Weaver, Deandre Bashem, Karlie Dragoo, Madison Barger and Rapheal Fuller. Their mentors are Joe McKinley, Bob Whitmer, Andy Johnson, Larry Conder, Phil Roberts, Linda Wahl, Darrell Higginbotham, Charlotte Burton, Cindy Whitmer and Malcolm Bryant.

"The mentor piece will probably be the key ingredient," Thompson said. "These kids are really interested in the mentor piece of this program."

To be selected for EARN, students had to be close to earning enough credits to graduate. Those who suffered from poor attendance in the past and had few behavioral issues were given special consideration.

"This is about helping them attend school," said Diana Rumage, Emerson Academy student assistance coordinator. "The whole purpose is for the student to have a connection between education and careers and their futures."

The possibility of earning money to go to school has worked for Jazzy Weaver, who put more effort into her studies to after she learned about EARN. This semester, she's making all As for the first time.

"It's the fact that they told me if I want to do this I have to do the work," Weaver said.

During their senior year, EARN students will take part in hands-on learning. For example, they will go to Estes Elementary to help in classrooms. They will prepare meals with OPS's kitchen staff. Evergreen Lawn Care plans to show them how to place and plant landscaping around the Emerson Academy building.

EARN students will tour Owensboro Community & Technical College and local businesses.

About half of the pilot program's students already work part-time jobs, Rumage said. Some live on their own. Others stay with friends.

The ability to earn up to $3,000 this school year provides another layer of financial security for them.

"This will be a leg up," Rumage said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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