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It’s not summer camp, but it happens only in the summer. It’s not college, but it happens on college campuses. It’s not high school, but it is attended only by high school students.

“It’s a community of learners,” says Aris Cedeno, executive director of the Governor’s Scholars Program.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Claire Wolken, a Louisville native and a 2006 Governor’s Scholars alumna, currently a student at the University of Kentucky.

“It’s an arts boot camp,” says Heather Weston Bell, executive director of the Governor’s School for the Arts.

“It was the best three weeks of my life thus far, and unquestionably the most exciting,” says Wesley Hammond, a senior at Montgomery County High School and 2009 Governor’s School for the Arts participant.

Kentucky is home to two Governor’s schools, one for scholars, one for artists, but both are for future leaders. Funded by the state legislature and private donors, the Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP) and the Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) are residential summer programs for high-performing Kentucky students. These two unique programs have ushered thousands of future Kentuckians into positions of leadership.

Governor’s Scholars Program
The Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, which started in 1983, and the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, started in 1987, are now well-established within the educational structure of the Commonwealth, and both alumni rosters boast an impressive list of authors, artists, actors, politicians, businesspeople, educators, and scientists who have chosen to call Kentucky their home.

In 2006, Wolken was a student at Assumption, an all-girl private Catholic school in Louisville. Although she wasn’t sure she would be able to make the cut into the Governor’s Scholars Program, her mother encouraged her to apply anyway. “My mom had the application date on the calendar. She was ready for me to go.”

For a position on the GSP roster, students compete with classmates at the local high school level and then compete statewide. Similar to the admission process for a prestigious college, selections are based on GPAs, ACT scores, student essays, teacher recommendations, and student profiles that highlight extracurricular activities and community service.

During the application process, students choose three possible “focus areas” from 25 areas offered that are similar to college majors. Focus areas range from agribusiness and biotechnology to philosophy and political and legal issues. If chosen, students become residents on one of three Kentucky college campuses for five weeks. In 2010, the campus choices were Centre College in Danville, Bellarmine University in Louisville, and Murray State University in Murray.

In late April 2006, Wolken received her confirmation letter, and by the end of May she was given her campus placement and her focus area. She would be studying engineering at Morehead State University. “I had never been past Lexington in my whole life. In fact, other than family members, I didn’t know anyone outside of Louisville,” says Wolken.

Both GSP and GSA strategically place roommates together who come from different backgrounds, putting someone from eastern Kentucky with someone from western Kentucky, or placing a student from an urban area with a student from a rural one. Wolken was delighted to meet her roommate, who was from not-so-distant Oldham County. Soon after moving into the dorm, Wolken started her “college” experience.

While GSP is located on a college campus, the program itself is more structured and scheduled than what a typical college student would encounter. In addition to campus rules of no alcohol, drugs, and firearms, GSP takes steps to ensure students are interacting with new people and building a community.

“I set the tone from the opening day,” says Cedeno. “We don’t allow them to use cell phones and iPods during the day, only in their rooms at night. And we don’t allow them to have televisions and laptops in their room. We ask parents to afford kids time and space to grow as leaders.”

GSP students meet in classes with their instructors during the mornings, afternoons, and sometimes in the evenings. They also take field trips to museums, manufacturing plants, historical sites, prisons, morgues, fish hatcheries, and outdoor theaters. Students also join clubs like ballroom dancing, chess, or tennis.

Wolken, who was very quiet in high school, claims the experience of GSP changed her into a well-rounded person who is more outgoing and willing to move outside her comfort zone. “I was forced to meet people, but it was so fun to meet all these people who had the same interests as I had.”

This summer, Wolken, who is now a chemistry major at the University of Kentucky working toward her certification in secondary education, returned to GSP in the role of a resident advisor (RA) in the female dorm. As an RA, she used her experiences as a scholar four years ago to lead students to make the most of their experience at GSP.

Governor’s School for the Arts
In three jam-packed weeks, students sing, dance, design, compose, paint, and act their way around the sole Governor’s School for the Arts site, Transylvania University campus in Lexington, to get a taste of the “artist’s life.” The faculty, who are successful professional artists, usher numerous kids through the process of becoming active artists.

“They have confidence in their talent when they come into the program, but we model the perseverance necessary to live the artist’s life,” says Heather Weston Bell, executive director. “They have to be sober, passionate, and dedicated.”

Unlike GSP, which is open only to juniors, sophomores can also apply to GSA. Home-schooled students as well as students who attend public and private schools can self-nominate and apply to the program. Students submit two essays and an online application, but they also undergo an audition or review of their performance and/or artwork.

For the 2009-2010 year, 1,641 applications were received. All students who apply audition at one of the four audition sites in Lexington, Louisville, Morehead, and Murray. The GSA faculty processes the auditions during February and March, and students are notified six weeks later if they have been accepted. Even if students don’t make the cut, they can contact the program for feedback on their audition, and, if they are sophomores, they can apply the following year.

“Our mission is to focus on the process rather than the product,” says Bell.

Students chosen for GSA study one of nine art disciplines: architecture, creative writing, dance, drama, instrumental music, musical theater, new media, visual art, and vocal music. They submit to an incredibly rigorous schedule, starting at 9 a.m. with an assembly featuring a guest artist, followed by classes from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. After dinner, students go back to class from 7-10 p.m. for practice and instruction.

GSA is also very firm with rules and protocol. “We want them to develop a sense of community, and rules help foster this. We say no to cell phones and instant messaging because otherwise students might spend the whole three weeks corresponding with friends back home instead of making new friends and establishing connections with the people around them.”

GSA definitely impacted Wesley Hammond, a Montgomery County High School senior who auditioned in 2009 and was accepted as a sophomore for the vocal music program.

At the time of the program, Hammond had never been away from his parents for longer than a few days. But within the first week on Transy’s campus, he discovered much about his own resilience and independence as well as vocal music and other forms of art.

“GSA gave me the opportunity to experience a community of artists passionately exploring their art form, motivated solely by one’s own desire to learn, all on an equal level.”

One of the startling discoveries Hammond made early in the program was the equity of the arts program. “It didn’t matter where you were from, how much money you had, or what you were there to study. I had the ability to walk up to anyone I met and begin a conversation, simply because we all were passionate about the arts.”

Hammond’s postgraduation plans are to attend college, most likely in-state, and major or minor in the performing arts and pursue a terminal degree—the highest degree in your chosen field.

“I learned so much about music as well as so many other forms of art. It made me a different person, in the most extraordinary way.”

While the programs focus on creating a transformative experience for their participants, both GSA and GSP strive to produce leaders that will take Kentucky into the next century. The framework is advanced citizenship—how to solve community problems, how to communicate, how to make the right choice, how to persevere in the face of difficulty.

While both Bell and Cedeno deny that the Governor’s programs are in place solely to stop the “brain drain” from the Commonwealth, they also stress the responsibility for community and statewide leadership.

“I always tell my students, wherever you go, remember there is a state that needs you,” says Cedeno. KL


1983 Year GSP was founded
230 Students in the first GSP program
120 Counties in Kentucky
120 Counties represented in 2010 GSP
11 Focus areas of study offered in 1983
25 Focus areas of study offered in 2010
1,900 Students who applied to the 2010 GSP program
1,050 Students accepted to the 2010 GSP program
22,148 Students, as of August 2010, who have completed GSP
89.7% GSP alumni who have a permanent address within the Commonwealth
80.8% 2008 GSP alumni who enrolled in a Kentucky college in the fall of 2009


4,000+ Kentucky students who have attended GSA since its inception
1,641 Students who applied in 2010
225 Students attending GSA in 2010
9 Arts disciplines offered by GSA
70 Colleges that interview and audition GSA alumni each fall
19 Kentucky colleges that offer scholarships to GSA alumni
98% GSA students who go to college
93% GSA students who win scholarships
$23,000 Average value of scholarship earned by GSA alumni
$2,800 Value per student of GSA summer program
$0 Cost for students to attend GSA
Every single 1 Number of minutes students at GSA eat, sleep, and breathe the arts


High school students can participate in a summer academic enrichment program at Kentucky colleges, which also offers social networking and mentoring support. To find out more about this federally funded, nationwide program held at many Kentucky colleges, go to upward bound.

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