Section: Features

Kenyon and East Knox partnership amps up efforts to help

Kenyon and East Knox partnership amps up efforts to help

Photo by Jack Zellweger

The Partnership of East Knox and Kenyon (PEKK) is entering its fourth year as an established campus group, and this year marks the advancement of new efforts to connect Kenyon students to the East Knox school community.

“There are many people who are on [Kenyon’s] staff that you see around, students at Kenyon who went to East Knox, staff who have children or grandchildren there,” Ben Douglas ’18, co-administrative chair of the PEKK leadership board, said. “One of the really great things about PEKK is not that we’re creating this new group — it’s more that we’re recognizing who our community is.”

Since 2015, the East Knox school district has been in a state of fiscal emergency, and its funding was taken over by the Ohio government to prevent complete financial collapse. Art and music programs were cut from the elementary school and reduced teacher salaries resulted in job loss and forced schedule changes. The school day at East Knox Junior and High Schools is divided into eight 45-minute periods, and because there are not enough full-time teachers to hold classes, some middle and high school students spend up to half of their days in scheduled study halls.

This semester, PEKK is invigorating its efforts to engage students in study halls by formulating activities to appeal to students’ interests.

“We’re trying to give alternative ways to be invested in school beyond the classroom setting, because for many of these kids, that hasn’t been possible,” Douglas said.

To organize study clubs, volunteers go into study halls and ask the students how they want to spend their 45 minutes, then formulate activities that meet the students’ combined needs and interests.

Several study clubs are in the works, and Douglas and other volunteers are currently leading activities for a group of three East Knox High School students. So far, the students created a public compliment box to promote kindness at their school and one student asked for help with an independent research project. Last year, Douglas and several PEKK volunteers led a themed study club during a study hall period for middle school students who expressed interests in science. They prepared hands-on challenges for the students over the semester using available resources, such as building ice coolers out of newspaper, cardboard boxes and styrofoam donated by faculty and  community members.

These clubs allow East Knox students to have a say in directing their own education, and volunteers gain experience working with students and running their own programs.

“It allows both to explore their interests,” Douglas said.

PEKK is also assisting the East Knox district in their campaign to pass a tax levy, an increase in monthly taxes to support the district’s school budget, on election day this November. Although a temporary levy was enacted in 1995 to rebuild the elementary school, a permanent levy has not been passed since 1984, making it over 30 years since the district has received additional funding.

The proposed levy would raise monthly taxes by $13 and last for 10 years, allowing East Knox to regain control of its own budget. Money from the levy would benefit operating expenses, increase teacher salaries, fund more special education resources, reinstate arts programs at the elementary school and eliminate the pay-to-play sports program that prevents students from lower-income families from participating in athletics. The levy would also help fund reintroduction of Advanced Placement (AP) classes in the high school. Douglas said East Knox students he spoke to were especially interested in having AP classes to better their chances of college acceptance.

To help with this year’s campaign effort, Douglas reached out to Jacob Hopkins ’18, who has previous experience campaigning for candidates and issues in his home state of Arkansas.

“We’re trying to spread the message, if we’re not going to invest in our kids, what should we invest in?” Hopkins said.

Douglas, Hopkins and other student volunteers are making phone calls to people in Knox County and traveling door-to-door in Apple Valley and Howard, Ohio on Saturdays to raise awareness of East Knox’s situation. Previous levies failed to pass due to opposition from sectors of the retired population and the majority Amish precinct, but the levy campaign hopes this year’s presidential election will bring in a higher voter turnout, and that their canvassing efforts will invigorate the East Knox community.

“I’m hopeful it will pass,” Hopkins said. “Really, it’s going to come down to how many doors we can knock on, how many people we can call. When you bring the urgency to the people and show them why it needs to pass, they will support you.”

Douglas is hopeful as well, but he knows the levy is only one step down the long road to East Knox’s recovery. “This isn’t the first levy, and it’s not the last,” he said. “If this passes, we will still need more money to run the district, but we’ll be in a much better place.”


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