A Mentor's Mission to Uplift and Inspire Barbourville Students

There are two things Travis Mills is passionate about: education and Appalachia. With a rich background in education, Mills has been a guiding light for students in his community for years. He is the proud recipient of 17 Green Leaf Awards and counting—an honor bestowed upon teachers and mentors who have had a profound and lasting impact on their students. Today, Mills serves as Full-Service Community Schools Coordinator at Barbourville High School.

“I feel like this job was made for me, and I was made for this job,” Mills said of his work at BHS.

Mills was raised by his grandparents in Knox County and attended college as a first-generation student. His grandmother worked hard to provide for him while also taking care of his grandfather, and their support sustained him throughout school. Other important adults in Mills’ young life were the teachers and coaches who went the extra mile to remove barriers, such as transportation, and ensure that he had the same educational experiences as other students. Because of this, Mills could participate in extracurricular activities such as Beta Club trips, academic team and Governor’s Cup.

Mills says he hopes to recreate these experiences for his students, which he has done by starting a service club. Students in the service club have participated in town beautification and other civil service projects.

“I loved school,” Mills said. “My hope is to foster that with kids in Barbourville.”

For Mills, building strong relationships and trust are the cornerstones of his work with students. Mills aims to be a role model, teaching values and respect, and encouraging kids to flourish, find hope, and be optimistic about their futures.

“Those are the things kids will remember,” Mills said. “Those are the characteristics that I remember. You can have an impact outside of the classroom.”

One of Mills’ proudest achievements is the development and success of the College Corner program. This initiative sees local community college representatives engage with students weekly, offering guidance on future educational pathways, whether it be college, trade school or tech school. The program has received an overwhelmingly positive response from students and is on track to increase dual credit enrollment to an impressive 65-70% by Fall 2024. This means that students are poised to graduate high school with nearly a full associate degree completed.

For all the great work he has done, Mills emphasizes the importance of sustainability, focusing on creating enduring programs that will continue to thrive beyond the lifespan of the initial grants. His strategy centers on fostering deep connections within the community and leveraging these relationships to unlock new resources and partnerships.

“Get as many people as you possibly can to the table,” Mills said. “There is investment. There is a way to make it work.”

This inclusive, community-based approach has proven successful, particularly in literacy advancements. Mills has worked with the Knox County Public Library to increase Bookmobile visits, provide every student with a library card, and install book vending machines in schools. Mills has also leveraged relationships with KCEOC for summer school and the expansion of 4H robotics programs. All these resources come at no cost to students or the school.

Another transformative program Mills has overseen is Bulldog Buddies: a bridge between Barbourville and Union College students, fostering mentorship and providing at-risk students with mentoring and an introduction to campus life.

For Mills, sustainability is a practical framework for making a lasting impact on the community and its future generations. While guiding students on their individual journeys, Mills is laying the foundation for a community that will uplift and support them for years to come.

Share this story:


More from the APPC2C Blog: