This academic year, Owensboro Public School launched Emerson Academy Resiliency Network (EARN), a mentor-based life skills program that focuses on career preparation, budgeting, financial responsibility, applying for jobs and housing, time management and communication. On Thursday, the 10 students in the pilot program met their mentors at a reception at Independence Bank.
Emerson Academy Principal Kevin Thompson said he has already seen a difference in the students, who are all seniors set to graduate in May 2020.
“These are non-traditional learners, but they are getting the opportunity to work with community leaders that are well-respected,” he said. “They have matured. And they are like sponges now. They want to learn as much as they can.”
Independence Bank President Darrell Higginbotham signed on to be an EARN mentor. He said it was his own non-traditional background growing up that led him to the role.
“I can relate to some of their challenges,” Higginbotham said. “Life interferes with their normal high school environment. As mentors, our support encourages them and at times challenges them to get their degree because we know their life will be better if they finish high school.”
Higginbotham said organizers found one main deterrent to high school attendance was work.
“My mentee has a job and many of the others do as well and are helping support their families or themselves,” he said. “They have to decide between school and their job.”
For this reason, the leaders of EARN decided to include a financial component to the program. The students will earn $20 per day to attend school and meet required benchmarks with a maximum amount of $3,000 available. Money is deposited into an account at Independence Bank where the students can view the money, but cannot spend or transfer it. It is given to them after graduation.
“The combination of the mentor and the financial incentive means the student is more likely to graduate,” Higginbotham said.
EARN began after Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ohio Valley was providing Emerson Academy students with trauma-informed lessons. According to CASA Executive Director Rosemary Conder, truancy of the Emerson students meant the lessons were not as successful as other school locations. A discussion began on how to encourage Emerson students to show up to school and less than a year later, EARN was launched.
“Now this pilot project is set to become a model for the state,” Conder said.
The students that EARN is serving come from troubled backgrounds, Conder said, and are at risk in a multitude of ways.
“This program shows our community cares for them,” she said. “And the money is not important to them. They are excited an adult cares enough about them to spend time with them.”