LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There’s more than just one way to graduate high school. It was one of many messages at the Education Advocacy Conference held in West Louisville Tuesday. The conference focused on ways to re-connect high school-age learners with education.

What You Need To Know

  • Education Advocacy Conference was held in West Louisville Tuesday focused on ways to re-connect high school-age learners with education

  • The conference brought together Louisville organizations and education advocates to learn more about pathways to graduation and beyond

  • There was also a resource fair for local youth

  • The resource fair offered one-on-one meetings with a JCPS counselor, learning about options for returning to school, organizations who offer alternative pathways to get a diploma, etc.

Quin’Tanay Smith actively helps high school-age Louisvillians reconnect with school.

“We are cheerleaders for the youth within our community, so a lot of that entails us helping them find passion and excitement for school, us getting them connected to the resources in the community, as well as helping them connect with jobs,” Smith said.

She’s an education advocate for The Book Works, a Louisville nonprofit that aims to re-connect 14 to 21-year-olds with education and employment.

The soon-to-be UofL graduate student said she never struggled with getting her high school diploma, but her mom inspired her to do this work. 

“She just recently got her high school diploma. There were a lot of factors that kind of hindered her from completing that high school diploma when she was in high school; so I realize the importance of being a cheerleader for someone and like how effective having support in your corner is,” Smith said.

Smith was one of dozens of people at the Education Advocacy Conference Tuesday, held at Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc. in West Louisville. Attendees learned about why youth often become disengaged from school and how to re-engage them.

From working with youth, Smith said external factors are a big reason people become disengaged in high school.

“It may not be that they’re not interested in school, but they are dealing with things at home,” she explained. “They are dealing with things that are outside of their education that are hindering them in the educational setting.”

The conference also offered a free resource fair for Louisville youth to meet with a JCPS counselor to review transcripts, explore options for returning to JCPS, learn about pathways to a diploma, high school credentials, and college credits. However, it was also an opportunity for them to connect with community resources for help with housing, employment, transportation and mental health—all possible barriers to getting an education.

The Book Works Executive Director Elizabeth Senn-Alvey said violence in the community, race and poverty are other barriers to education engagement.

“When we hear from young people, when we listen to their stories and really take the time to be with them when they are describing it, what they say to us is, ‘It’s great when I have a champion who will walk alongside me and encourage me to keep setting goals and working towards them,’” Senn-Alvey said.

Besides talking about barriers to education and ways to extend support to Louisville youth to help them, there were also several organizations present to chat with about alternative pathways to receiving a high school diploma or GED because sometimes educational achievement doesn’t always look like walking across a stage just before summer vacation at a brick-and-mortar high school.

Her mom’s support helped Smith achieve her dream of being the first in her family to graduate from college. 

“And two weeks after I graduated college, my mom was graduating with her [high school] diploma, and it was just such a great full circle moment,” Smith said.

Smith graduated the traditional way, from Marion C. Moore high school. She said her mom got her diploma online.

Now, Smith is cheering on Louisville’s youth to achieve their education and career dreams by helping them figure out which path works best for them.

For information on some of the community programs and resources at Tuesday’s conference, click the organization you’re interested in below.

  • The Food Works - Training youth and adults to navigate education systems and a social enterprise component which employs youth in a “business” that builds skills for school & work.
  • Job Corps - The largest free residential education and job training program for young adults ages 16–24. 
  • The Goodwill Excel Center - a unique, tuition-free adult charter high school that awards industry recognized certifications and high school diplomas.
  • YouthBuild Louisville - YouthBuild Louisville assists young people in meeting significant life goals, such as preparing for college and careers.
  • JCPS Adult Basic Education Program - Enables students to upgrade their skills, earn a GED credential, and successfully transition to postsecondary education and/or the workplace. Free morning, afternoon and evening classes are held at sites across Jefferson County.
  • Coalition Supporting Young Adults - A collective action initiative of community organizations and individuals who come together to address the needs of youth and young adults in Louisville, Kentucky who are disconnected, out of school and work because of structural racism, poverty, homelessness, educational disruption, childhood trauma, and related challenges. 
  • The Spot - Offers free career resources for young adults ages 16-24 in the Louisville region.
  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System - If you didn’t finish high school, there are free classes at adult education centers and online to help you prepare for successful completion of the GED test.
  • NAMI Louisville - A nonprofit organization dedicated to educating family members, professionals, and the public to dispel misperceptions about mental illness.
  • Louisville Youth Network - The Network for Youth Development and Community Building in Louisville, Ky. listens to young people and connects them to the resources they want.