"These people love you."
“All you have to do is want an education.”
With those words, former Secretary of the Cabinet under Governor Ernie Fletcher and proprietor of Rudolph Tires in Murray, held out a helping hand to students in four far western Kentucky schools. The Four Rivers Scholarship Foundation officially began its work in Fulton County, Fulton City, Hickman County and Carlisle County Schools with programs in the three counties. Hickman County School Superintendent Kenny Wilson estimated that 2500 students in the four systems will involved in the program.
A 1973 graduate of Fulton City Schools, Rudolph will donate an undisclosed amount of money to the Foundation to provide funds to students who want to go beyond high school. The program begins in kindergarten and will support students through high school and into college or technical school.
Rudolph and his wife set up “Rudolph’s Reindeers” to distribute books to every kindergarten through fourth grade student in the area. Students will also receive help to increase their reading comprehension. Rudolph told a group of students at Hickman County High School Wednesday morning “You can go anywhere if you can read.”
Fifth through eighth graders will have interest assessments to begin to shape the path they will take after high school. From ninth grade through the end of high school, mentors and guidance counselors will work with the students to help them get as much financial assistance as they can to go to the school of their choice. Students in the target high schools will go on visits to the campuses that have signed up as partners in the Foundation.
Representatives of Murray State University, University of Tennessee-Martin, West Kentucky Community and Technical College and Mid-Continent College will be participating in the program. Three schools, Murray State, WKCTC and Mid-Continent sent representatives to the three kick off programs. The Four Rivers Foundation road show began at 8 a.m. in Carlisle County, then on to the Hickman County High School Library to meet with eighth graders and seniors, then finishing the day at Fulton County Area Technical School for a reception.
Mid-Continent College representative’s told the students to “Look around this room.” The students dutifully swiveled their heads to take in the business suited adults lining the wall of the Library. When they turned back around, he continued, “These people are here because they love you.”
Students who apply for funding won’t need to show high scores or a fine GPA. In addition to the traditional tuition support, they can ask for money for gas and incidentals.
Rudolph’s program is not just for giving out money to students. He emphasized that the program is to build self esteem and a sense of accomplishment in students. In that, the program will dovetail neatly with a program called “Falcon Academy” that will allow high school students at Hickman County High School to earn college credits before they hit their chosen campus. Other schools have similar programs under different names.
Students who attend the technical centers have been able to earn college credit from WKCTC for technical courses, but now all juniors and seniors in high school will be able to get dual credit in core classes while having their high school teachers and others being their mentors and guides.
“The goal is to show reluctant students that they can and will succeed at the post secondary level,” states Fulton Independent Superintendent, Dianne Owen. “It will enable students to set goals for a specific career in fields where jobs are waiting in their own home towns and this region.”
Fulton County ATC principal, Tom Pyron, agrees, “If we want to have our kids stick around in our counties and be successful, this is the investment we need to make.”
Robbie Rudolph and his wife, Lisa will hopefully be joined by other successful Western Kentuckians who want make a real contribution to student achievement.
Following the Rudolphs’ example is an economic development plan that will keep on giving for years to come.