Four Eastern Kentuckians have earned regional recognition for making significant contributions to advance education in their home communities.

Receiving Forward in the Fifth’s 2012 Appalachian Leaders in Education (AppLE) Awards for going “above and beyond” in their efforts to support education were Kelly Bell, principal at Metcalfe County High School; Rob Lester, pharmacist/proprietor of Pike County; parent volunteer Michelle Combs of Perry County; and Estill County student Abbey Alexandra Witt.

The awards were presented recently at Education Leadership Day at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.

Forward in the Fifth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing low educational attainment levels in the region, also presented U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) with the 2012 AppLE Visionary Award in recognition of his creation in 1986 of the organization, also an affiliate of The Center for Rural Development.

“Educators who lead with purpose and look beyond the horizon are making a difference in the lives of our students and ultimately impacting our communities,” Congressman Rogers said. “I commend all of the 2012 AppLE award winners, who are leaders with purpose.”

“The contribution of this year’s AppLE Award winners illustrates the passion and dedication each has for raising the educational bar across the region,” added Jim Tackett, executive director of Forward in the Fifth. “We are honored to recognize each person’s accomplishments to further demonstrate the value of education. Our future award recipients have big shoes to fill in the years to come.”

Also during Education Leadership Day at the center, Congressman Rogers presented his Fifth Congressional District “Difference Maker Award” to retired NCAA and NBA basketball coach Lee Rose and his wife, Eleanor, for their volunteer support to motivate students in southern and eastern Kentucky to stay in school and plan careers.

In addition to the AppLE Award presentations, representatives from Clay County, Wayne County, Monticello Independent and Jenkins Independent schools led a series of breakout sessions on the impact grant funding from Forward in the Fifth’s Local Educational Affiliate Program (LEAP) has had in tackling educational issues in their areas.

Since 2011, Forward in the Fifth has presented more than $13,000 to nine counties, including area schools or college systems, to establish a LEAP affiliate in their home communities and address an educational issue relevant to students in the region.  

Brief descriptions of the 2012 AppLE Award winners and their efforts to support education in their communities and the region are as follows:  

Educator Award – Kelly Bell (principal at Metcalfe County High School)

When Bell was hired as school principal, Metcalfe County High School was listed as one of the persistently low-achieving schools, according to federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) guidelines.

She decided to change that designation. During her tenure, she has worked tirelessly to improve students’ confidence in themselves, their school and their community. Under Bell’s leadership, student ACT and graduation rates have risen. She has involved the community in the revitalization of the school by inviting community leaders to visit the school, have lunch with the students and learn what they can do to support education in their home community.

Community Leader Award – Rob Lester (pharmacist/proprietor) of Pike County

Lester received his education in Pike County and sought to give back to the community. He formed a partnership with the University of Pikeville to establish a dual credit program so that deserving students could get a jumpstart on their postsecondary education. He remains active in speaking with students about the value of education and establishing programs that will academically benefit Pike County students.

Parent Award—Michelle Combs of Perry County

Combs is involved in volunteer and fundraising efforts in the Hazard Independent school system. As assistant coach of the middle and high school speech teams, she encourages her students to become involved. She also serves as a volunteer for the Hazard/Perry County soccer leagues and coordinates numerous other volunteers on a weekly basis to ensure the smooth transition of the extra-curricular activities.

Student Award – Abbey Alexandra Witt of Estill County

Witt is involved in career and technical education at Estill County High School. As president of Kentucky’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), she has traveled across the state informing students about the importance career and technical education can have on her peers as well as local communities. In February, Witt testified before Kentucky’s House and Senate Committees on the difference such programs have made in her life.