The Governor’s Rural Education Foundation (GREF) is an initiative by Governor Bill Lee to improve college access opportunities and college readiness skills for Tennessee students. To achieve this mission GREF has chosen to work with The Ayers Foundation, due to its success of increasing the rates of college attendance and completion in the schools and communities that it currently serves, to implement and expand its Ayers Foundation Scholars Program model. To facilitate this expansion and to separately monitor its results, the founder of The Ayers Foundation created TAF Rural Expansion Foundation (REF), a non-profit organization. REF will utilize The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program model to serve rural schools and communities not currently being served by The Ayers Foundation and the AFSP. This expanded model used by REF will be referred to herein as AFSPM and will implement the programs, and opportunities to its partner schools and communities.
The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program was founded over 20 years ago out of a deep belief in the power of education to create opportunity and build strong rural communities. AFSP is an independent program that works in partnership with rural schools and communities committed to the belief that ALL students deserve and need a successful postsecondary experience to meet the demands of a new economy.
The Ayers Foundation realizes that rural communities have the passion and dedication but not always the resources to improve college, career, and military readiness for their high school students.
Leveraging new, recurring state funding through the Governor’s Rural Education Foundation initiative, The Ayers Foundation, through the AFSPM will partner with select distressed and at-risk rural counties to expand its college readiness and access model.
The AFSPM invests in expert, full-time, properly trained advisors who serve as each student’s champion, coach, guide and technical and emotional supporter, from 8th grade all the way through the postsecondary experience and beyond. Advisors are embedded in the school, but are distinctly and intentionally independent, underwritten by the foundation, and ultimately accountable to the foundation for making sure that every high school graduate has a plan and path to a meaningful postsecondary experience through postsecondary completion. Advisors also utilize, leverage, and connect students and families to a larger social work model to provide wrap-around services through the high school and postsecondary experience.
The AFSPM strives to provide every student with the opportunity and support to pursue a postsecondary option best suited to their unique interests, strengths, and needs. Communities that have built a strong and stable partnership with the AFSP are now seeing dramatic results in college going rates.
By the Numbers: College-Going Rate Pre and Post AFSP
As of 2019, Perry County (the only distressed county currently served by AFSP) had the highest college-going rate in the state of Tennessee, outperforming several of the state’s wealthiest counties. These exceptional college-going rates can be attributed to the success of the AFSP, which has been at Perry County High School since 2010. Prior to AFSP, Perry County High School sent only 57% of its graduates to a postsecondary program, but now that number is over 85%. And the high school graduates from Perry County are progressing or completing at an unprecedented rate of 82%.
In partnership with Governor Lee and the Governors Rural Education Foundation, this request for proposal will identify new partnerships with school districts in officially distressed and/or at-risk rural counties. This designation is based on a set of criteria from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and officially recognized by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Distressed Counties (11): Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, Perry, Wayne, Clay, Grundy, Bledsoe, Scott, Hancock, Cocke
At Risk Counties (26): Obion, Haywood, Carroll, Henderson, McNairy, Benton, Hardin, Houston, Lewis, Jackson, Warren, White, Van Buren, Rhea, Meigs, Fentress, Morgan, Monroe, Campbell, Union, Claiborne, Grainger, Hawkins, Unicoi, Carter, Johnson
Click here for an interactive map of distressed and at-risk counties in Tennessee.
The AFSPM team, as an independent partner, will be accountable to the Governor’s Rural Education Foundation and its set of transparent and aligned measures to ensure that every student from grades 8 through 12 in the school district are being supported through postsecondary completion. The first phase scope of the partnership is a formal agreement (memo of understanding). Ultimately AFSPM reserves the right to transition out of the partnership if the conditions and commitments are not held to the highest standard set by The Ayers Foundation in The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program.
Step 1: Review the information provided by The Ayers Foundation. Decide whether this is an opportunity for your school district and rural community. If so, complete and submit this application by June 18, 2021.
Step 2: If selected as a finalist, commit to participating in in-person interviews with Ayers Foundation executive director (who is also REF's executive director) during the week of June 21 to June 25, 2021.
Step 3: You will be notified of the final decision no later than July 1, 2021.
AFSPM is looking for potential school district and community partners with a commitment to independent AFSPM counselors working directly to support students (and families) to a plan for a meaningful postsecondary experience (TCAT, community college, university, military, credential with labor market value). AFSPM counselors are professionally trained and are 100% focused and accountable to ensuring every child from 8th grade through postsecondary completion is guided personally and supported – academically, socially and emotionally.
AFSPM is looking for the following demonstrated commitments and conditions for success:
The AFSPM provides comprehensive student supports spanning from 8th grade through postsecondary completion. These supports are grouped into the following categories:
Please submit any questions regarding the application here by June 8, 2021.
Note that these criteria are considered high priority for an AFSPM partnership.
Please provide responses to the following questions. Please try to limit these written responses to no more than 500 words maximum.
NOTE: There are no “right” answers; we as an organization are simply trying to understand where your community currently stands. For instance, it is okay if there is not already a college going culture established in your district.
If there are examples or samples of commitment to postsecondary access and completion, existing or planned partnerships or student support initiatives, please provide them through a link or through an addendum.