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  • Joe Graviss

Legislative Update - Summer Educational Programs

Hi everybody,

Summer vacation may well be underway, but for a select group of middle and high school students, their education continues as they attend one of several long-standing programs that take classroom learning to a new level.

            The foundation for these weeks-long events can arguably be traced back to the early 1980s, when Western Kentucky University served as home to one-day summer workshops for teachers of gifted students.

            Shortly after that, both WKU and the state turned their focus in the summer to the gifted students themselves, and that led to the creation of programs that still thrive today on a handful of our college campuses.

            The most well-known is the Governor’s Scholars Program, which started with 245 students in 1983 but now serves more than 1,000 annually.  About 31,000 have taken part overall.

            GSP is free for the students and doesn’t issue grades or offer subjects like algebra or social studies; instead, the classes cover such areas as biological and environmental issues; engineering; film studies; and philosophy.  There are numerous field trips, too, and some students last year at Murray State took part in a two-week mock crime on campus to learn how cases are handled from a police investigation through a trial.

            An underlying goal of these gifted programs is to encourage our brightest students to stay in Kentucky when they attend college and settle into a career.  Annual surveys by GSP show this has turned out to be the case, with four out of five of the 2016 scholars staying in the commonwealth as college freshmen.  About the same percentage of all GSP alumni with a known address still lives here, too.

            The other high school-level program that got its start in the 1980s is The Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts, which has since served more than 5,000 students as they train in such areas as creative writing, musical theater and vocal and instrumental music.

            For thousands of younger students, WKU has hosted not one but two programs for well over 30 years.  Those are the Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth (VAMPY) and the Summer Camp for Academically Talented Middle School Students (SCATS).

            Both of these extend beyond our borders, too, with attendees coming from more than a half-dozen states. 

            Several years ago, Kentucky began offering a third major program for older students: The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs.  It lasts for three weeks and, not surprisingly, focuses on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and enterprise. 

            Here, teams work on business ideas and pitch them before judges and an audience, much like the “Shark Tank” TV show. 

            Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, called the program “terrific.  I wish there were more programs like it.”

            All of these summer classes play an important role when it comes to challenging our best and brightest students, and there is universal agreement that they are more than worth their relatively small investment.  There's no doubt they will continue to dominate future summers for gifted students for many years to come.

            As always, I would like to hear from you if you have any comments or questions about this issue or any other affecting Kentucky.  My email is, and you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

            Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.

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