By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and for Concord freshmen Ronald “Trey” Lockhart he has an entire village of supporters backing his college career.
Though he only completed his freshmen year at Concord this past week, Lockhart already has plenty of accolades to celebrate. Lockhart graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 2012, is both a Bonner Scholar and a member of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation (ALEF) scholarship program, and works with the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound program.
However, all those special awards didn’t make starting college any easier. Like many students, Lockhart said he faced some initial challenges when he started at the university level.
“In high school, I never really had to study,” he said. “I could read it in a book or take notes in class and take the test and pass. You have to study in college. I think you learn in college in a week what it took them a month to teach in high school. In high school, you’re also always in the classroom on a set time. Here, I have more freedom between classes. I can finish an assignment or rest and relax before going to my next class.”
Despite his initial struggles, he said he had a huge support network to help him.
“It’s very important to have people supporting you, especially in college,” he said. “You get stressed and you feel you can’t do things, so you need people to push you. When I feel like I can’t do something, I sometimes need someone to say ‘you’ve done this and this already, so you can do this too.’”
Those experiences are some of what Lockhart will share as he joins 30 students from across the country in the first ever GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy. During high school, Lockhart participated in the GEAR UP program, which focuses on preparing students in high-need areas to enter and achieve success in their college careers.
Now, Lockhart and other students will go to Washington, D.C., to learn how to engage their fellow students and help spread community awareness of college opportunities for children in their home states.
Lockhart said programs like GEAR UP, Upward Bound and the numerous family, friends and Concord staff have been a huge part of his success in college.
“Through Upward Bound, I spent a summer session here at Concord and got used to the campus and dorms,” he said. “If I hadn’t been in these programs, I wouldn’t have been exposed to what I was exposed to. It prepared me for college. When I came here the first day of college I knew what to expect and where to go. I think a lot of young people are under prepared and they get scared so they drop out, which leads to an overall increase in the drop out rate.”
Lockhart said he also gains a lot of support and encouragement from his parents.
“I grew up right outside Iaeger in an area called Wilmore,” he said. “My dad was in a car wreck in 1987 and he’s been disabled since. My mom was a teacher and really pushed me as far as my education. My dad always said he never got to fulfill his dreams so he wanted me to fulfill mine. My mom always said I could do whatever I wanted. She went here to Concord as well.”
Of course, Lockhart has plenty of ambition of his own.
“I was dead set on graduating with honors and becoming a doctor,” he said. “I want to be a doctor of radiology or an orthopedic surgeon. I just want to give back to my community. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and Reconnecting McDowell helped me narrow my focus. I knew I wanted to come back and help rebuild my county. I’m hoping to get into the medical program at Marshall. From there, I want to get my start as a doctor in Charleston and then eventually open up my own practice in McDowell County.”
When Lockhart was in school there were several changes to the education system in McDowell County. Lockhart attended his freshmen and sophomore year at Iaeger High School and then completed his junior and senior year at River View High School when Iaeger High School closed. Lockhart was also part of the first years of the Reconnecting McDowell program.
Lockhart said his involvement in Reconnecting McDowell showed him the importance of an education.
“I graduated in a class with 116 kids and maybe 60 went to college,” he said. “I want kids to realize you will soon need an education to do things. A lot of them are content to be miners or truck drivers, but pretty soon technology will outpace all of that. Technology is advancing so fast today.”
Lockhart said he feels more students in McDowell County could achieve success on the college level if they at least made an attempt.
“I want kids to at least try,” he said. “If not college, they can go to after school programs or other educational programs. A lot of them see their parents are miners and truck drivers and say they will just do that as well. I know a kid who is smart but turned down scholarships because he said his dad could get him a job on the railroad. It’s a year later and he still doesn’t have a job.”
Technology is one of the obstacles Lockhart feels students in southern West Virginia face.
“In McDowell County, we don’t have a lot of technology,” he said. “Reconnecting McDowell has increased what we have, but we still don’t have virtual schools, online classrooms and the same technology a lot of other areas have. We are behind because we don’t have the same technology and experience as everyone else.”
Lockhart said he hopes to take his own experiences with him to the upcoming GEAR UP academy, which will discuss how to increase college attendance and educational attainment in areas with low rates of post-secondary education.
“My visit to D.C. is first to find out about the other 29 kids and talk about their experiences in their states,” he said. “I want to see how their programs have helped them. I get to meet people from all over including someone from Hawaii, which is cool because I’ve never met anyone from there before. I want to hear their stories and for them to hear mine so we can help each other. When I’m there, I want to learn different ways of doing things.”
Most of all, Lockhart said he wants to bring back ideas that will help improve the quality of life for McDowell County students. Lockhart already spends time through the Upward Bound program giving back to his hometown.
“I went to Sandy River two weeks ago for Upward Bound to talk to kids about how it helped me get into college,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t think they can go to college, but once they apply they get the courage to go. If they listen to someone who has been out of school for a while talking about college, they assume that person doesn’t know how things are now. With me, I didn’t graduate that long ago so I’ve been in their shoes. I hope they will watch me develop as a person and want the same thing. That is definitely why I help with Reconnecting McDowell.”
There is one student in particular Lockhart said he hopes to see follow in his footsteps.
“I have a little brother and I like being able to go home on weekends and spend time with him,” Lockhart said. “When I was a kid there I saw a lot of negativity. I want to make things better for him, to make him as proud as I am to be from McDowell County. I feel these programs will help him and other kids in his generation.”
Lockhart said the biggest lesson he has learned so far is to not give up on his dreams.
“I would tell him and other kids to not give up,” he said. “Giving up is easy but sometimes when it gets bad you just have go to through it. When things seem at their worst you have to keep on. I think that’s what people need to know about people from McDowell County. People from McDowell County are strong people. Despite all the adversity and through everything, we will survive.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org