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2012 AppLE (Appalachian Leaders in Education) Award winners announced

Four Eastern Kentuckians have earned regional recognition for making significant contributions to advance education in their home communities.

Receiving Forward in the Fifth’s 2012 Appalachian Leaders in Education (AppLE) Awards for going “above and beyond” in their efforts to support education were Kelly Bell, principal at Metcalfe County High School; Rob Lester, pharmacist/proprietor of Pike County; parent volunteer Michelle Combs of Perry County and Estill County student Abby Alexandra Witt.

The awards were presented May 21 at Education Leadership Day at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.

Forward in the Fifth also presented U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) with the 2012 AppLE Visionary Award in recognition of his creation in 1986 of the organization.

“Educators who lead with purpose and look beyond the horizon are making a difference in the lives of our students and ultimately impacting our communities,” Congressman Rogers said.  “I commend all of the 2012 AppLE award winners, who are leaders with purpose.”

“The contribution of this years AppLE Award winners illustrates the passion and dedication each has for raising the education bar across the region,” Jim Tackett, executive director, added.  “We are honored to recognize each person’s accomplishments to further demonstrate the value of education.  Our future award recipients have big shoes to fill in the years to come.”

To view video of the AppLE Awards presentation, click here: AppLE Awards Presentation

The AppLE Award winners are:

Educator Award – Kelly Bell (principal at Metcalfe County High School)

When Bell was hired as school principal, Metcalfe County High School was listed as one of the “Ten Worst Schools in Kentucky,” according to the federal “No Child Left Behind” guidelines.  During her tenure, she has worked tirelessly to improve students’ confidence in themselves, their school and their community.  Under Bell’s leadership, student ACT and graduation rates have risen upward.  She has involved the community in the revitalization of the school by inviting community leaders to visit the school, have lunch with the students and learn what they can do to support education in their home community.

Community Leader Award – Rob Lester (pharmacist/proprietor) of Pike County

Lester received his education in Pike County and sought to give back to the community.  He formed a partnership with the University of Pikeville to establish a dual credit program, so that deserving students could get a jump start on their post-secondary education.  He remains active in speaking with students about the value of education and establishing programs that will academically benefit students of Pike County.

Parent Award – Michelle Combs of Perry County

Combs is involved in volunteer and fundraising efforts in the Hazard Independent School System.  As assistant coach of the middle and high school speech teams, she encourages her students to become involved.  She also serves as a volunteer for the Hazard/Perry County Soccer Leagues and coordinates numerous other volunteers on a weekly basis to ensure the smooth transition of the extra-curricular activities.  Her individual sacrifices are often over-shadowed by the accomplishments of the young people she is assisting.

Student Award – Abby Alexandra Witt of Estill County

Witt is involved in Career and Technical education at Estill County High School.  As president of Kentucky’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), she has traveled across the state informing students about the importance Career and Technical Education can have on her peers as well as local communities.  In February, Witt testified before Kentucky’s House and Senate Committees on the difference such programs have made in her life.

In addition to the Apple Award presentations, representatives from Clay County Schools, Wayne County and Monticello Independent Schools, and Jenkins Independent Schools in Letcher County led a series of breakout sessions on the impact grant funding from Forward in the Fifth’s Local Educational Affiliate Program (LEAP) has had in tackling educational issues in their areas.

Somerset businessman Chuck Coldiron, who organized the successful “Read Pulaski County” literacy event at The Center the last two years, also delivered a presentation on the success of that endeavor.  At each event, nearly 1,000 Pulaski County fourth graders have enjoyed a free pizza lunch and children’s book, and had the opportunity to hear Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear speak about the importance of reading.

“Our Local Educational Affiliate Program (LEAP) is a very practical way people can get involved in improving their community’s education process,” Tackett said.  “This program has a long history of creating long-lasting change.  We have no doubt that these communities will grow and sustain their efforts serving future generations.”

Since 2011, Forward in the Fifth has presented more than $13,000 to nine counties, including area schools or college systems, to establish a LEAP affiliate in their home communities and address an education issue relevant to students in the region.

For more information about the AppLE Awards or LEAP grant program, contact Jim Tackett, executive director, at 606-677-6000, or email


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