Operation Honor launching STEM program that hires veterans, trains them to mentor underserved kids

Posted at 12:10 PM, Dec 18, 2016

OWENTON, Ky. -- A new program in Northern Kentucky is putting local veterans on the front lines of STEM education.

It’s called Veterans Engaged Teaching Students, or VETS, and its mission is connecting specially-trained military veterans with underserved, rural high school students through science, technology, engineering and math (collectively known as STEM).

Kentucky-based nonprofit Operation Honor is launching the new initiative the coming months at Owen County High School with the goal of soon taking it to other rural high schools in the Northern Kentucky region. It’s getting a head start -- and even kicking off a little ahead of schedule -- thanks to a $25,000 donation last month from AT&T Kentucky.

Operation Honor supports disabled veterans and part of its mission is increasing patriotism in younger generations. The decision to start an after-school mentoring program that connects local vets and teens was an easy one, according to the public charity’s founder, Joe Montgomery.

“There is a critical need in our rural high schools,” said Montgomery, of Erlanger. “Many high school students need to develop skills during their high school years in order for them to find a job and be successful after graduation.”

Right now, those necessary skills are based in STEM, he said. And some high schools, especially those in low-income, rural areas, don’t always have the resources it takes.

The mobile nature of the VETS program will allow Operation Honor to bring all those resources directly to schools. The hands-on “tech shop” will include state-of-the-art technology, like computers and a 3-D printer, and a variety of tools and equipment that will help kids learn skills necessary for fields like manufacturing.

The teens also need special mentors to help foster those skills -- and that’s where local veterans come in, according to Montgomery.

“Our military veterans are skilled in STEM and have developed other invaluable skills while making sacrifices for this country,” Montgomery noted. “That makes them perfect mentors for our kids. They can share their stories, teach those important skills and help motivate students who show an interest in STEM.”

The VETS program will also use the Medal of Honor Character Development Program curriculum to integrate important principles, including courage, sacrifice, integrity and commitment.

Those values will serve students well no matter what career path they choose, according to Owen County High principal Duane Kline.

“STEM instruction is a nice vehicle, and it’s certainly a high-interest area for the kids. But, to me, the larger part is the character-building side,” Kline said of the VETS program. “To have folks who have made serving their country and communities a part of their life come in and mentor our kids is a huge asset.”

The veterans are the backbone of the program, Montgomery said. Operation Honor is also working with local business partners and engineers to further develop the curriculum. The after-school program will be open to interested 10th- through 12th-graders and will likely be broken up into six-week sessions.

Prior to receiving the grant, the project was set to launch next school year, he noted. The funding from AT&T Kentucky allowed the nonprofit to train and compensate veteran mentors and purchase enough equipment to kick off the program early for about a dozen students at Owen County.

“We’re excited to dip our toe in and test the waters,” Montgomery said of the early launch. “We hope to see the program grow to include schools across the region.”

For details about Operation Honor, including ways you can help support its programs, click here.