145,000 Kentucky kids are coping with parental incarceration. Could programs like this give them the lift they need?

I have long believed that the power of a quality education can transcend the four walls of any classroom. However, after recently learning about a crisis affecting 15% of all Kentucky children, I am more convinced than ever that education must transcend brick and mortar to truly render positive change within our communities.

That crisis? Parental incarceration. As it stands, roughly 145,000 Kentucky kids are coping with an incarcerated parent or guardian, giving the Bluegrass State the second-highest rate in the country.

Maybe that’s common knowledge to veteran teachers around the state, but personally, I had no clue that Kentucky’s incarceration rates are that high. If it hadn’t been for this column in KDE’s Kentucky Teacher publication, I would still be in the dark about the whole issue.

Erasing the stigma of incarceration

I highly suggest you check out the original column above. It’s saturated with a lot of eye-opening information about parental incarceration in Kentucky along with an inspiring story about a program in Russell Independent School District called KRUSH (“Kids Rising Up through Support and Healing”).

Based on their own students’ and families’ experiences with incarceration, a few staff members at Russell-McDowell Intermediate began the weekly support group to help reach students that they knew were dealing with the incarceration of a parent. During KRUSH meetings, students share positives and negatives for each week, build relationships with staff members, and have tough conversations about their emotions in a comfortable environment. According to one of the founding staff members, Jalina Wheeler, KRUSH is making a powerful difference for the kids.

“We’re still collecting data, but we’re seeing attendance is better, behavior is better, there are less write-ups, grades are better and teachers are all about sending them because they’re seeing a difference in the kids as well.”

That shows me that programs like KRUSH could have tremendous potential in rural, “everyone-knows-everyone” communities like mine, where the stigma of incarceration leads to major belief gaps for the kids left behind. Just think—children with incarcerated parents already know they’ll have to beat the odds to be successful, but without the support of teachers and mentors who believe they can succeed in spite of their circumstances, that job gets even harder.

It also reminds me that no matter what billionaire venture capitalists say, public schools absolutely have a place in fighting the societal ills that our country is facing. In a time where it would be easy to throw up their hands and complain that the impact of parental incarceration is too hard to overcome, inspiring teachers like the ones behind KRUSH are showing us what it means to truly believe in all students. That’s something worth talking about.

But what’s even better? You can actually do something about it in your own community.

If you visit the KRUSH webpage (click here), you’ll find all kinds of resources you can use and information about future trainings in your area. The next one appears to be at the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation’s conference in Lexington, July 24th. (And you can register for that here.)

With roughly 15% of all Kentucky kids suffering from seeing an incarcerated parent or guardian, programs like this can go a long way in making a major difference in their lives. If you’re a teacher, what’s stopping you from doing something like this in your own community?

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