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Jessica Dueñas - 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year

Renee speaks with Jessica Dueñas, the 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, who is a special education teacher and will be among the founding educators at the new W.E.B. DuBois Academy in Jefferson County. She also writes about education issues as a contributor to the Courier Journal.
Season 13 Episode 41 Length 28:52 Premiere: 08/10/18

Jessica Dueñas – 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year

For Jessica Dueñas, being a teacher means doing more than just helping the students in her own classroom. She’ll help any young person and their family struggling with language barriers that can prevent them from succeeding at school and in life. She engaged in her community to help those beyond her classroom door. And this fall, she’ll be a founding teacher at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, a new public school opening in Louisville that focuses on teaching young boys of color.

“I believe that my greatness is truly helping others overcome their barriers and meet their dreams,” Dueñas says.

Her extensive skills and deep commitment earned Dueñas the honor of being the 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. She appeared on KET’s Connections to talk about the new academy as well as share her own struggles as a student and how that helped shape the teacher she became.
 

 

Discipline Laid a Foundation for Success
It wasn’t easy being a kid in the Dueñas household. Her parents immigrated to New York from Costa Rica in 1970 so Jessica and her sister could have better lives. The move came with high expectations and stiff discipline.

“When I was a kid, I hated how strict they were,” Dueñas says. “Crazy curfews, barely any TV, strict with all the reading.”

The Dueñas girls learned their multiplication tables and cursive writing on a piece of blackboard their mother kept at home. Books checked out from their local library had to be read and returned in one week. Teachers at school were to be treated with as much respect as parents at home.

But school was still not easy for Dueñas. As an English language learner, she struggled with writing until a teacher in high school pulled her aside and tutored her privately for several weeks. That helped Dueñas go from getting failing grades to getting As. A scholarship to Barnard College at Columbia University soon followed.

Dueñas dropped out, though, after suffering a bout of depression. That’s when the parental discipline returned: Her mother told Dueñas that she needed to go back to school. So Dueñas enrolled in night classes at Hunter College at the City University of New York and worked as a secretary during the day to pay for them. Once she earned her degree, she returned to Brooklyn to teach in the neighborhood where she was raised.

“I very firmly believe that I have been given many blessings despite the barriers that I had to personally overcome, so I’m all about service,” Dueñas says. “I am here for others: It is my purpose, it is my blessing.”

Launching a New School in Louisville
Romance brought Dueñas to Louisville six years ago, but when that relationship ended, she found that she had fallen in love with Kentucky so she decided to stay. She taught at the Academy @ Shawnee High School in Louisville before becoming a special education teacher at Oldham County Middle School.

“I think that the special education piece actually is perfect for me because I’m not passionate about some content area, I’m passionate about children,” she says.

After nearly four years in Oldham County, Dueñas is moving back to Louisville this fall to take on a new challenge.

“I only came back to Jefferson County because of the DuBois Academy,” she says. “As soon as I heard that the board approved a school with an Afro-centric curriculum targeted to males of color, I said ‘that is my calling.’”

The W.E.B DuBois Academy will have an inaugural class of 157 sixth graders. It will eventually serve 450 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who will be selected by an application process. Dueñas says as students move into higher grades, they will mentor younger students at the school.

In addition to traditional academics, students will learn character development and leadership attributes of perseverance, resilience, initiative, discipline, and empathy. Dueñas says the culturally competent coursework that instructors and administrators are developing will help ensure student success.

“I believe that students learn best when they see themselves in the curriculum,” she says. “Our plan is for every young man in our school to see themselves in our lessons.”

Critics of the new academy claim the school is selecting only the best students. But Dueñas says out of the 157 boys in the inaugural class, 22 of them have some kind of physical impairment or behavioral disorder.

“I’m curious to see how they change once they come into our school and have a curriculum that represents them, says Dueñas, “because I wonder, for some of our emotional behavior disorder students, do they really have a behavior disorder, or was their school not meeting their needs?”

School starts this Wednesday, but academy students, known as “young lions,” already gathered for a special ceremony last week where they received sports jackets and ties with the school logo and colors. NBA star and former University of Kentucky standout Rajon Rondo, who is a Louisville native, paid for the uniforms and presented them to the students.

Helping Students Feel Safe
Dueñas says her first days in the classroom will focus not on schoolwork but on building relationships. She says it’s critical for her to get to know each of her students and their unique needs, and for them to begin to connect with her.

“A child will not learn in an environment that they do not feel safe in,” Dueñas says. “That’s the focus of my classroom, always has been, always will be.”

That doesn’t mean anything goes in her classes. While Dueñas doesn’t raise her voice, unless a child’s safety is at risk, she’s found other ways to maintain discipline among her youngsters.

“Any student who’s ever been in my classroom knows what my death stare looks like – and I’ve got a good one,” Dueñas says with a laugh.

While she expects the parents of her DuBois Academy students to be involved with their children’s education, Dueñas says she understands if they’re not. She says her parents never attended parent-teacher conferences when she was a child because they were too busy working to provide for their immigrant family.

“When I see the parents who are not present, I’m not judging them,” she says. “I’m working with the students in my classroom. Once they come in my door, they’re mine, and then if the parents can collaborate, great.”

Even though they may not have been present for school meetings, Dueñas credits her parents for their love, discipline, and sacrifice that helped her and her sister succeed in life.

“Now that I’m an adult and I’ve risen above all the barriers that were in that community I grew up in, I’m really grateful for everything that they did,” says Dueñas. “We accomplished what my parents came here for: I am educated, I am independent, I have a career. That’s exactly what my mother and father wanted.”

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Season 13 Episodes

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness

S13 E43 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 08/24/18

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing

S13 E42 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 08/17/18

Jessica Dueñas - 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year

S13 E41 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 08/10/18

2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book

S13 E37 Length 28:48 Premiere Date 07/13/18

A New Task Force on Opioids

S13 E36 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 07/06/18

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy

S13 E35 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 06/29/18

Criminal Justice Reform

S13 E34 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 06/22/18

Jay Box - Kentucky Community and Technical College

S13 E33 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 06/15/18

Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis

S13 E32 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 06/08/18

Bob King - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

S13 E31 Length 28:09 Premiere Date 06/01/18

Rachel Childress - Lexington Habitat for Humanity

S13 E30 Length 26:22 Premiere Date 05/25/18

2018 Kentucky Primary Races

S13 E29 Length 29:52 Premiere Date 05/18/18

Dr. Donna Grigsby

S13 E28 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 05/11/18

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

S13 E27 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 05/04/18

Kosair Charities Face It Movement; Terry Brooks

S13 E25 Length 28:27 Premiere Date 04/20/18

Child Marriage Laws in Kentucky - Donna Pollard

S13 E24 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 04/13/18

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

S13 E23 Length 29:22 Premiere Date 04/06/18

Secretary Derrick Ramsey - Apprenticeships

S13 E22 Length 28:09 Premiere Date 02/23/18

Educational Innovation

S13 E21 Length 28:45 Premiere Date 02/16/18

Gerald Smith

S13 E20 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 02/09/18

Perry Bacon Jr.

S13 E18 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 02/02/18

DV8 Kitchen

S13 E17 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 01/19/18

Silas House, New Novel

S13 E16 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 01/16/18

Tawanda Owsley

S13 E15 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 01/05/18

Sexual Harassment Issues

S13 E14 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 12/15/17

Disability Rates and Benefits

S13 E13 Length 27:27 Premiere Date 12/08/17

Good Samaritans

S13 E12 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 11/17/17

A Salute to Heroes

S13 E10 Length 26:18 Premiere Date 11/10/17

Legislative Health Policy

S13 E9 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 11/03/17

Elder Care

S13 E8 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 10/27/17

Preventing Youth Suicide

S13 E7 Length 28:17 Premiere Date 10/20/17

A Proposal for Pension Reform

S13 E6 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/13/17

Rethinking Pain Medication

S13 E5 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/06/17

Former Gov. Steve Beshear

S13 E4 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 09/29/17

Secretary Elaine Chao

S13 E3 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/22/17

Smoking Cessation and Pregnancy

S13 E2 Length 29:32 Premiere Date 09/08/17

Author and Journalist Sam Quinones

S13 E1 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/01/17

Author and Journalist Sam Quinones

Preview Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/01/17

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Premiered On: 07/07/2017

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Premiered On: 10/20/2017

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Premiered On: 11/03/2017

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Melynda Jamison - CASA of Lexington

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Good Samaritans - Surgery on Sunday; Bluegrass Families First and One Parent Scholar House

Premiered On: 11/17/2017

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  • Monday December 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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  • Monday December 26, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Sexual Harassment Issues - Consultant Rus Funk

Premiered On: 12/15/2017

Renee's guest is Rus Funk, a consultant on gender equity, anti-racism, and violence prevention. He serves on the board of the National Center on Sexual and Domestic Violence. Funk talks about the spate of sexual harassment charges that have dominated news headlines and offers advice on helping men learn how to modify their behavior to create a professional and respectful work environment.

  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Silas House

Premiered On: 01/12/2018

Novelist, activist, and educator Silas House discusses his book to be released later this year that focuses on parenthood, his work as an advocate for environmental and gender equity causes, and other topics.

  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
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Dominique Wilkins - S11 E41

  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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UK President Eli Capilouto - S18 E6

  • Thursday November 24, 2022 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 11:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 9:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 6:30 pm ET on KET
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Gary Tuggle - S11 E40

  • Thursday November 24, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 24, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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  • Thursday November 24, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Dr. Leana Wen - S11 E39

  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 10:29 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 9:29 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 23, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terrence Walton - S11 E38

  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - S11 E37

  • Monday November 21, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 21, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Author Emily Bingham - S18 E11

  • Saturday November 26, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday November 26, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
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  • Sunday November 20, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Kimberly Johnson - S11 E36

  • Friday November 18, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 18, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jason Merrick - S11 E35

  • Thursday November 17, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 2:10 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 1:10 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 17, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Fayette County Veterans Treatment Court - S11 E34

  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Lynne Saddler - S11 E33

  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 2:25 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 1:25 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Scott Hesseltine - S11 E32

  • Monday November 14, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 14, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bill Goodman - Kentucky Humanities - S18 E10

  • Sunday November 20, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 20, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday November 19, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
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  • Sunday November 13, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
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  • Sunday November 13, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Jessie Laine Powell - S11 E31

  • Friday November 11, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 11, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Oral Health Care In Kentucky - S11 E30

  • Thursday November 10, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 10, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 10, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Kishonna Gray - S11 E29

  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Gretchen Hunt - S11 E28

  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Erin Frazier - S11 E27

  • Monday November 7, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday November 7, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Restoring American Democracy - S18 E9

  • Friday November 25, 2022 11:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Friday November 25, 2022 10:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 9:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 25, 2022 6:30 pm ET on KET
  • Friday November 25, 2022 5:30 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday November 13, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
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  • Saturday November 12, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
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  • Sunday November 6, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
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  • Sunday November 6, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Crystal Wilkinson - S11 E26

  • Friday November 4, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday November 4, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes - S11 E25

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 2:16 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 1:16 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday November 3, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention - S11 E24

  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

A Tribute to Georgia Davis Powers - S11 E18

  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 2:18 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 1:18 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Andrew Brennen - S11 E17

  • Monday October 31, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday October 31, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Breast Cancer - S18 E8

  • Sunday November 6, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday November 6, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday November 5, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday November 5, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams - S18 E7

  • Sunday October 30, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday October 29, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday October 29, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Anthony Smith - S11 E16

  • Friday October 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday October 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Wayne Lewis - S11 E15

  • Thursday October 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday October 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear - S11 E11

  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday October 26, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Miss Kentucky Clark Davis - S11 E10

  • Tuesday October 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday October 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
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