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Commonwealth Middle College Leaves Lasting Impression on the Lives of Students

PADUCAH, KY (05/03/2018) Jacob Pinkston has his dream job at Nashville's prestigious Henley restaurant as a sous-chef or "second in command" to the banquet chef, where he prepares banquet meals for thousands of guests each month.

A spring 2015 graduate from Marshall County High School, Pinkston also completed the two-year Commonwealth Middle College (CMC) program on the campus of West Kentucky Community and Technical College that same spring. Through the CMC program, Pinkston was able to take college core and high school classes, all on the WKCTC campus. He completed the CMC program and earned his high school diploma within days of each other. Pinkston said being a CMC student helped set him on his path to success.

"The Commonwealth Middle College, Marshall County High School and WKCTC were stepping stones to where I am today," said Pinkston, who followed his passion for cooking by enrolling in the WKCTC culinary arts program after graduating from the CMC program and high school. He earned an associate in applied science degree in spring 2017 and began his career at Henley just a few months after graduation.

The middle college began in 2007 and was designed to help students stay focused on their education while earning as many as 36 college credit hours free and while in high school. The program was made possible through a partnership between the Lay Family Foundation, Inc., of St. Louis, Marshall, McCracken, and Graves County schools, Paducah Independent Schools, WKCTC and Paducah Junior College, Inc., the college's foundation.

Eight classes - a total of 460 students - from Paducah Tilghman High School and high schools in McCracken, Marshall, and Graves counties have graduated from the CMC program since it began. Graves County and Paducah Tilghman participated in the program for two years. More than 70 percent of all the CMC graduates have gone on to attend WKCTC or transferred to four-year universities. In addition to graduating from their perspective high schools, 65 CMC students also earned associate degrees from WKCTC from 2011-2018.

Dr. David Heflin, WKCTC's vice president of academic affairs, said this year will be the last graduating class for the CMC program as WKCTC continues its transition of offering dual credit opportunities to students throughout the region. He said the program and its staff and supporters leave a remarkable legacy of successful students like Pinkston.

"CMC graduates have gone on to complete associate, bachelor, and graduate degrees; work as chefs and engineers; teach elementary, middle and high school students; nurse us back to health; and honor us with military service to our country," said Heflin. "The program has seen nearly 500 graduates, all under the watchful eye of Donna Wear who has served as principal. We want to thank Donna for her hard work and dedication to our students and congratulate her on helping students achieve educational success."

Pinkston, who was in the fifth CMC class, praised Wear for taking him and other CMC students under her wing. "Ms. Wear was like a mom to us," he said. "She went above and beyond to help us and was always so helpful in guiding us to succeed."

Wear said it was the staff's job to keep the CMC students on track. "They just needed someone to assure them they could do it," Wear said. "Then they could - and they have."

Just prior to the last CMC celebration in the college's Clemens Fine Art Theatre May 1, 2018, Pinkston's future alumna of Marshall County High School Sabrina Collins was in total agreement with Wear's commitment to student success.

"This has been such a great experience. It's sad (the program is ending) but it's been the best thing I ever did. Ms. Wear pushes us just the right amount," said the 18-year-old Collins.

Collins' two-old son, Josiah, was just five days old when she began her junior year in high school and applied for the CMC. Unsure of what was going to happen, she remembers Wear's word to her. "Ms. Wear said, 'We can get through this,' and we have," said Collins, who said Josiah is her motivation to stay in college. She will graduate with an associate in science degree at WKCTC's spring commencement May 5 and from high school May 25. She will continue her education at WKCTC this fall and apply for the college's physical therapist assistant program in the spring.

During the May 1 CMC celebration, Wear thanked supporters of the program including McCracken County Schools Superintendent Brian Harper and High School Principal Michael Ceglinski, Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovell and High School Principal Patricia Greer, WKCTC President Dr. Anton Reece, and the faculty and staff of WKCTC.

She also recognized the CMC advisors and mentors "who are willing to work diligently for our program, and never abandon the young people we serve every day," she said of Dr. Donna Mattingly, Susan Mullen and Lanny Lancaster.

As the program ends, Wear said the best way to capture her feelings about the CMC program is a quote from Dr. Seuss. "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."