A student wearing a graduation cap and gown shakes hands with a man handing her a diploma.

Danyelle Tucker, a recent graduate of Southern High School (Jefferson County), was one of the 87 recipients of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Powered By Inclusion Scholarship. Tucker plans to attend Bellarmine University starting in fall 2022. Photo submitted by Jennifer Tucker.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) is using federal funding to award scholarships to 87 Kentucky high school students with disabilities.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act – which included more than $2 billion for Kentucky public schools – authorized a third round of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The federal funding expands equity initiatives by supporting the students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Named after the U.S. Department of Labor’s theme for the 2021 National Disability Employment Awareness Month, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” the KDE Powered by Inclusion scholarship is a nonrenewable $2,500 award to use at any in- or out-of-state college or university, training program or postsecondary educational opportunity.

“We recognized that the pandemic limited opportunities for students receiving special education services to gain job experience and financial support through paid work experience. Our hope was that the financial award would negate some of the financial burden on students who planned on entering postsecondary settings,” said Jason Wheatley, an Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) ARP transition specialist.

Local boards of education were able to nominate up to two students per public school district. Eligible applicants had an Individual Education Program (IEP) and obtained postsecondary readiness through career or academic readiness.

“An additional goal of the scholarship program was to provide an opportunity that intentionally sought to recognize and celebrate instances of postsecondary readiness for students receiving special education services throughout the state,” said Wheatley.

Danyelle Tucker, a recent graduate of Southern High School (Jefferson County), was one of the 87 statewide recipients. Tucker plans to pursue a four-year degree at Bellarmine University in Louisville starting in the fall. In her application, Tucker said she is prepared to take the next step in her life.

“I was diagnosed with autism at age 2, so I have been striving to overcome many challenges in my life related to socialization and communication,” she said. “But with my faith in God, and a lot of family love and support, I have arrived where I am today.”

Tucker’s mother, Jennifer, said the scholarship meant a lot to her daughter who felt the award indicated Danyelle was right in line with her peers.

“Having autism and being in special needs classes, that’s not always the end goal for students in those classes,” said Tucker. “She has an older sister that goes to college as well … In her congratulation letter, it said she was postsecondary ready. To her, that was a huge accomplishment for her that she didn’t always see she would be able to achieve. It meant a lot to her to be able to say she was going to go to college too and she was ready for it.”

Lucas Reichenbach, a recent graduate of Paintsville Jr./Sr. High (Paintsville Independent), was also one of the 87 statewide recipients and earned the “academic ready” designation within the postsecondary readiness model. His nominators called him one of the “kindest, most helpful students.”

Reichenbach will be attending Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg and feels both nervousness and excitement about starting in the fall. He plans to study social work with the hopes of becoming a clinical therapist to help other individuals with disabilities.

“I feel like I would be good with talking to people who have disabilities because I myself have autism, so I feel like it would be a good thing to do and I can help them as well,” he said.

The scholarships were awarded in 57 Kentucky public school districts:

  • Anderson County
  • Augusta Independent
  • Bardstown Independent
  • Bell County
  • Berea Independent
  • Boone County Schools
  • Bourbon County
  • Boyd County
  • Boyle County
  • Butler County
  • Calloway County
  • Carter County
  • Caverna Independent
  • Christian County
  • Clark County
  • Corbin Independent
  • Danville Independent
  • Edmonson County
  • Elliott County
  • Fayette County Public Schools
  • Floyd County
  • Harlan County
  • Harlan Independent
  • Hart County
  • Hazard Independent
  • Henderson County
  • Henry County
  • Jefferson County Public Schools
  • Jenkins Independent
  • Jessamine County
  • Johnson County
  • Kenton County
  • Kentucky School for the Blind
  • Kentucky School for the Deaf
  • LaRue County
  • Ludlow Independent
  • Madison County
  • Martin County
  • Mason County
  • Mayfield Independent
  • Meade County
  • Mercer County
  • Nicholas County
  • Oldham County
  • Owensboro Independent
  • Paintsville Independent
  • Pendleton County
  • Perry County
  • Pikeville Independent
  • Powell County
  • Rockcastle County
  • Russell Independent
  • Shelby County
  • Simpson County
  • Warren County
  • Wayne County