For many rural students, going to college means leaving their hometown behind, at least for a little while. Navigating the world of post-secondary education can be daunting, particularly for first-generation students. Having someone to show you the way can be invaluable—especially when they’ve been exactly where you are. The subject of this week’s staff spotlight, Tori Looney, serves in that all-important role for students in her hometown.
Looney grew up in Powell County, Kentucky before attending the University of Kentucky where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and a certificate in school counseling. After gaining some experience in the field, Looney found her niche working in a school-based setting and returned to Powell County.
Looney has been with Partners for Rural Impact for two years and is currently the Full-Service Community Schools Coordinator at Powell County High School. Looney says being from the area is what allows her to have such a meaningful connection with the students.
“It’s a cool thing to be able to tell kids that you sat in the same room,” Looney said. “To be able to say I’ve been there and done that, I achieved something, and I chose to come back.”
Looney’s daily responsibilities include coordinating services between the community and the school, ACT prep, extra curriculars for staff and students, and family engagement events. She also supervises student led projects which are funded by FSCS. These projects emphasize hands-on learning and bring new technology to the classroom including 3D printers, chemistry kits, forensics kits, and shop materials.
Having access to these tools enhances learning in new and innovative ways. Students can get hands-on with the technology, unlocking new ways of learning and discovering their unique talents and creativity.
This work goes beyond academic instruction, though. For Looney, the true joy of her work comes from forming meaningful relationships with students, staff and the community.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is walking through the front door every morning and hearing, ‘Good morning, Miss Looney!’ I feel very appreciated by students and staff.”
Being a first-generation college graduate herself, Looney credits her parents and older brother for supporting her on her own journey. Looney strives to pass down this support and positivity to her own students, a task that she says is a community effort.
“I know that the work we do could not be done without the support of my Project Director, and the rest of my FSCS LMPW colleagues. They continually support each other and are always there to listen. This grant has been very successful at PCHS due to the amazing administration, building leadership, staff, and the engaged students that we have. I believe that this grant can and will do great things at PCHS and I am so glad to be part of it!”
Community-based mentors like Looney are a vital part of student success in all settings from rural to urban, and FSCS is bringing this work to schools throughout Appalachian Kentucky. Check out the features below to learn how School Coordinators are serving across the PRI Appalachia service region: