CORBIN -- Berea College's Partners for Education welcomed an estimated 1,330 high school seniors to the Corbin Arena on Friday to celebrate the progress students have made through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant.

The Partners for Education group at Berea was the recipient of the federal GEAR UP grant, which followed the 13 schools in attendance from sixth-grade to graduation.

The grant has allowed Berea to serve Barbourville Independent, Middlesboro Independent, Whitley County, Wayne County, Somerset Independent, Lincoln County, Cumberland County, Jenkins Independent, Letcher County, Casey County, Harlan County, McCreary County, and Clinton County schools along with a few others. Through GEAR UP, Berea has implemented programs and services which have been aimed to increase the number of students that are confidently prepared for college and career readiness.

GEAR UP Associate Director of Strategy and Programming Celesta Riffe said that generally speaking, the schools the program has served have experienced "an overall improvement in both the ACT and K-prep test scores." She also said the schools have had higher attendance rates as well.

Outside of these more data driven results, Riffe feels like the grant has allowed for students to have personal growth and development. She says the initiatives have "grown advocates, confidence and allowed students to know that once they get to college, they can achieve success."

GEAR UP Project Director for the area Doug Coots said that Berea is extremely proud of their schools and of the hard work of their students. He said that Friday's event at the Arena was to "celebrate seniors and their achievements."

The event started off with a welcome from the President of Berea College Dr. Lyle D Roelofs who congratulated the students on their efforts but explained to them that their work would not be over yet.

He told students to strive to be life-long learners.

"I want you to keep going... Make plans, work very hard to accomplish them, and when you're done, you can enjoy your success but look forward to the next level," he said.

This speech was preceded by two performances. The first was by a group known as Drum Cafe. The band led students in creating various beats while encouraging them to be excited for the future. The second performance was by local band Frontier who increased the energy by playing an assortment of cover songs and original rock.

Officially called "senior send off," the event was successful in bringing senior students from across Southeastern Kentucky together for one fun and motivational day.

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