Caldwell, Crittenden and Christian County high school students will benefit from two U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants announced this past week.

Madisonville Community College, in partnership with the Crittenden County School District, is the recipient of a USDA distance learning and telemedicine grant totaling some $142,000.

The grant will better connect Madisonville Community College with Crittenden County High School students for dual credit. Classes will be taught by MCC faculty and taught via the internet so students can complete them at the high school. That saves students travel on long, winding roads at night.

The $469,330 healthcare services grant is based on the western Kentucky entities involved partnering to provide quality healthcare training in rural communities by forming a consortium so that all partners benefit. The paramedic program and the radiography program at MCC both will be expanded through the grant’s activities.

Madisonville Community College president Cindy Kelley called the announcement “a whole group of opportunities for students in rural western Kentucky.” She explained, “With the two grants, we’re able to offer programs and classes in dual credit in Crittenden County and also in Caldwell and Christian counties with the healthcare services training for high school students. When we look at workforce needs and education needs in rural western Kentucky, these two grants will help us raise that to a greater level.”

Crittenden County High School and MCC have partnered for years to offer dual credit. However, the announcement of the new grants ensures high school students new learning opportunities on their own campuses through distance learning via MCC. Not only will participating students earn both high school and college credit, but they also can complete extensive work toward degree programs and certificates. Another important factor is eliminating drives as long as two hours on crooked roads.

Hopkinsville Community College also benefits from the alliance. “We are thrilled for the opportunity to build upon our current partnership with Madisonville Community College and provide additional academic options for high school students,” said Beth Beverly, director of allied health at HCC. “This grant allows us to offer the emergency medical technician certificate to high school students, preparing them for a career in healthcare and/or assisting them in continuing their education in one of our many allied health programs. Together, we are transforming students into tomorrow’s leaders in healthcare.”

Crittenden County Schools Superintendent Vince Clark addressed the crowd gathered at his high school’s Rocket Center. “We’re just happy to be the recipient of this through the hard work of Madisonville Community College,” he announced. “The big ideas of director (Hilda) Legg, Congressman (James) Comer and Dr. (Cindy) Kelley at Madisonville Community College align to our efforts of creating opportunities for our kids.” The plan is to deliver instruction via digital technology to the high school classroom at the same time the instructor is teaching at the college, one form of distance learning.

The Trump Administration has invested some $3 billion in rural communities, said USDA’s Rural Development Kentucky state director Hilda Legg. “We believe strongly that rural communities must be economically vibrant,” she added. “They must be healthy and they must have job opportunities. When rural communities are strong, America is strong.”

Quality technology is imperative within schools and communities to compete nationally, Legg said. “We, in Kentucky, won seven awards from among 116 nationally. So, that averages out to about two per state and we got seven.” She concluded, “That’s because we had really good partners who applied for those awards and we supported them. It’s just a good day for education right here in Crittenden County.”

U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky. First District) noted, “One of the biggest issues we face in Washington now is that our students are graduating from college with massive student loan debt. This allows young people in Crittenden County to stay in Crittenden County and obtain high school and college credit without ever having to leave and without accumulating any debt. So, I think this grant is going to make a difference for a lot of young people in Crittenden County for a lot of years to come.”

Crittenden County High School principal Mandy Irvan called the announcement “such a great opportunity” for both the high school. “To be able to see their teacher and still be able to interact directly, synchronously with that professor is going to be huge for our students,” she said. “Having that face-to-face (interaction) is so important.”

MCC grant specialist Craig Dixon was among those attending the announcement. “The best part of my job is that I get to work with a lot of really smart people, who have a lot of really (great) ideas and then, we get to bring in the resources to make them happen,” he said. “This is our sixth consecutive award from the Delta Healthcare Services Program. It’s our first award from the distance learning telemedicine program. We’re thinking this Crittenden County model can work in other counties. So, we’re excited to try that around our service area.”