Making a Difference: Geoff and Sky Marietta

Moving Mountains

Harlan County Kids Blossom with Technology Education from KET

Pine Mountain Settlement School sits tucked on the north side of Harlan County. It’s a postcard of a place: running streams; tall, shady trees; wildflowers in abundance. Since the early 1900s, it has served the people of the Appalachian Mountains in one of the most isolated places in the entire eastern United States.

And with isolation comes limited opportunity, poverty, and a dearth of the advantages children in more populated areas take for granted. But thanks to KET and a Corporation for Public Broadcasting Ready to Learn grant, children here are learning during the summer months, when educational opportunities are lean.

Geoff and Sky Marietta“The lack of opportunity here is just tremendous,” said executive director Geoff Marietta, who has been at the settlement school since 2015. “As a non-profit that has been operating in this area for over 100 years, we’re deeply embedded in the community and really get a firsthand experience of what the community needs and wants.”

“When you talk about populations that don’t get reached, the north side of Pine Mountain in Harlan County is probably one of the best examples,” added director of community development Sky Marietta, who along with Geoff, her husband, lives on the Pine Mountain property with their two young sons.

“The digital divide is real. A lot of our families live 45 minutes from a library. There’s very little preschool programming, a Head Start program that’s 11 miles from us, and even farther for some of our families. That’s just the reality.”

This year, KET offered two opportunities for Pine Mountain children and families. The first, the PBS Kids Family Creative Learning workshop, teaches how a family as a group can create video stories on tablets — and learn computer coding principles. It utilizes the Scratch Jr. app, based on popular PBS Kids programs.

“This is exactly the kind of service we love to provide to our community here,” said Sky. “It is enrichment in the truest sense, because it’s bringing in an experienced educator — and even the software and hardware the children are able to use is not the sort of thing that they would have access to otherwise.

“It’s exceptional to have something of that high quality offered here at the settlement school,” she said.

The second opportunity was the Odd Squad Camp designed to boost at risk-kids’ STEM skills — science, technology, engineering, and math — in both rural and urban areas. It was integrated with Pine Mountain’s summer day camp for school-age kids. KET educators led the fun, hands-on Odd Squad math curriculum each morning, and for the afternoon, the settlement school crafted their summer program to complement each day’s earlier instruction.

“So, if we were talking about patterns, our staff developed a program where they taught about patterns in traditional music. And then heard a concert by practitioners of traditional music,” noted Sky. Also offered was a parallel early-childhood program for young children for its Little School preschool center.

“We were able to work together to put together a program that was really unique to this location,” she said. “We had 55 children come, and the students persisted. Very few dropped out.”

And it was a very diverse camp, Geoff noted, including young people who were visiting relatives in the mountains for the summer.

In addition to the hands-on education programs the camp provided, the Mariettas emphasize that its benefits may take years to fully flower.

“What we see in research is that it’s often these informal, out of school-time experiences that allow children to try on various [non-traditional] identities of being a coder, being a scientist, or a mathematician,” said Sky.

“When you have a very narrow range of models in your local community for your future employment, the research says that this is the time where children start to consider new career opportunities. So it’s just a fantastic fit — you don’t know what the rippling effect will be for the children in our community but this is the right age. This is getting them at the right time.”

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