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Settlement Schools: What's Old Becomes New

The federal government is putting its money behind the career-to-cradle Promise Neighborhood concept, but those kinds of efforts have been going on in rural Appalachia for more than a century.

The U.S. Department of Education has offered more than $30 million in Promise Neighborhood grants in the hope of transforming high-poverty communities by taking a comprehensive approach to meeting students' needs.

Those kinds of schools have existed in rural Appalachia at least since 1902. Kentucky Educational Television did a project on these institutions, which were founded by women and based on similar urban settlements. The schools are described this way:

"... these schools not only provided an education for students, which was their basic purpose, but also became community centers for geographically isolated settlements. They built extensive campuses, including dormitories for boarding many of their students, grew much of their own food, and made practically all of their own furniture. Within a few decades after opening, settlement schools were involved in growing crops; establishing and running health clinics; making, promoting, and selling local arts and crafts; running cooperative stores; and collecting local music and stories."

The first was established in Eastern Kentucky in 1902—Hindman Settlement School—and it still offers programs today. Its Web site described it as having been a "model center for education, health care and social services." Although its programs have changed through the years, its mission has not. Some of its work includes:
• Educational services for children with dyslexic characteristics and their parents;
• Workshops for people interested in Appalachian literature and folk arts;
• Folk arts programming for Knott County, Ky., students and the broader community;
• Community service programs; and
• Conference and retreat facilities.

Hindman isn't the only surviving settlement school, and a full list can be seen here.

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