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Making a Difference: A Footprint for Learning

Aaron Thompson

As president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, Aaron Thompson devotes much of his time looking for ways to ensure all Kentuckians have opportunities to improve their lives through higher education.

While much of that work focuses on helping adults earn postsecondary degrees and certificates to aid their careers, Thompson says one of the most important contributors to lasting success is one often occurs much earlier in life: developing a love of learning.

“We have tons of evidence that shows that a love for learning often happens in early childhood, between the ages of zero to five, when the brain is developing rapidly,” Thompson said. “That’s when children can build a ‘footprint for learning,’ which is a powerful dynamic that continues to grow with them throughout life.”

And KET, with its abundance of educational children’s programs like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Super WHY!, offers a fun way to engage young minds, encouraging them to discover how learning can be rewarding.

“The beauty of KET’s children’s programming is that it helps build a set of tools that many young children don’t even know they’re building,” Thompson said. “They’re repeating the numbers, letters and sounds from the characters. But perhaps just as importantly, they’re seeing themselves as part of that world, building an emotional connection. And that’s where a love for learning happens.”

Thompson says he discovered his own passion for learning growing up with eight siblings in a crowded, sharecropper’s shack in Clay County. Neither parent had beyond an eighth-grade education. One day, his father, who worked two jobs to make ends meet, offered Thompson some advice: “Son, if you get yourself an education, you’ll have an opportunity to have choices in life.”

“That was a lesson that connected with me,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t so much about making money as it was about finding a way to become everything I can be.”

While a college professor, Thompson taught a course at the University of Kentucky that was distributed statewide through KET’s telecourses. The experience, Thompson said, opened his eyes to KET’s larger educational role in the Commonwealth, helping people prepare for a career and improve their lives.

KET resources, such as FastForward, a GED preparation course, and Workplace Essential Skills, which teaches job-specific math and communication skills, have been tremendously useful, particularly during the pandemic, as displaced workers sought to find new jobs or build their vocational skills, Thompson said.

“I always say KET offers life preparation,” Thompson said. “Its programs and resources give you knowledge you can build on and help you be successful. KET keeps the learning going, extending that love of learning well into adulthood.”