‘Whatever it Takes:’ The Importance of Partnerships in Supporting Rural Youth

Rene’ Cornette’s passion for improving the lives of students shines through with her every word, made evident by the energy and purpose she brings to her work. A lifelong Harlan Countian, Cornette now works as Full-Service Community Schools Coordinator at Wallins Elementary School where she once attended.

“What I love about this grant is that I would have benefited from these services as a kid,” Cornette said, adding that what drives her is being the person she needed as a student.

One thing that sets Cornette apart is her ‘whatever it takes’ attitude: looking for opportunities, even when it’s not easy. This perspective is especially important when working in rural areas, where resources and opportunities are often scarce. Cornette says her work with FSCS has taught her how to build partnerships to work together, find solutions, and do whatever it takes to improve the lives of students. She sees herself standing in the gap for students, but not alone—community partnerships are the crux of this all-important work.

Partnerships are also what made possible one of Cornette’s biggest achievements yet: working with the Harlan County Public Library to get library cards in the hands of every third-grade student. Evidence shows that third-grade reading scores are a crucial indicator of future success. Cornette believes fostering a love of reading in these young students will set them up to thrive. She says it was her own love of reading that unlocked so much of her own potential by expanding her vocabulary and enhancing her writing skills.

“If you can get kids to fall in love with reading, that opens up opportunities for the rest of their lives,” Cornette said.

With all the great work FSCS is doing, Cornette says sustainability is always a consideration. The programs, services and partnerships put in place are designed to outlast her position, even while she is working hard for a continuation of the grant. A few of the objectives FSCS is working to meet are k-readiness and improved math and reading scores. Partners are working together to enhance learning in new and unconventional ways, from STEM nights and family engagement to bringing in an artist to write Jack tales with students.

Cornette’s work goes beyond improving test scores—it also focuses on social-emotional learning to encourage success in all areas of students’ lives. For Kindness Week, Cornette led students in creating a kindness tree, where students wrote notes of kindness for teachers. This activity helped to foster a culture of kindness while also encouraging teachers and showing them how much they are appreciated.

In her commitment to creating an inclusive and caring learning environment, Cornette strives to make her students feel seen and known, and encourages them to challenge any negative stereotypes about where they are from.

“Your narrative is you get to go on and do great things,” Cornette said, speaking of her students. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your last name is. You are capable.”

Purpose-driven practitioners like Cornette are making a difference in the lives of students every day. Check out the features below to learn how School Coordinators are serving across the PRI Appalachia service region:  

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