The Grayson County Middle School Cougar Zone has grown a lot over the past few years and, according to Director Jessica Kiper, it's all because of the community's support.

Cougar Zone offers students an opportunity to be involved in after-school activities that will keep them out of trouble and help them learn career readiness, life skills and help them be proud of themselves, their school and their community.

In addition to homework help, students can get involved in a variety of clubs including archery, book club, bridge building, robotics, academic team, drama, future problem solvers, chess, girl scouts, cooking, fashion design, SHE team and landscaping.

To enable more students to be able to participate the school offers several shuttle buses to different places in Leitchfield, Clarkson, Millwood and Caneyville.

According to Kiper this program helps with overall student grades and behavior, but the values for Cougar Zone are the same schoolwide. Now kids can define these values and how to "Be the Good" instead of just saying what they are.

Students are placed in groups of five to 10 for homework help during first hour, then are free to go to activities during second hour and students with As and Bs are able to go to clubs, play Clever Crazes or tutor other students during first hour.

Clever Crazes are computer games designed to help students in their core classes and top scorers are entered into drawings.

According to Kiper, there are 128 statewide programs like this one, and there are usually 12 community partners involved. GCMS has 27. Cougar Zone also had nearly one-third of the state total for volunteer teachers. GCMS has 41 volunteer teachers, 17 paid teachers and five ECTC volunteers. There are also 57 teachers who offer before school tutoring.

Kiper said that of the 1,005 students attending GCMS, 87 of them are able to attend regularly.

Cougar Zone activities are often student led. Students suggest club ideas and teachers help them make it happen. Students also suggest fundraisers to help the community, such as food drives and blood drives.

"Students are encouraged to make their ideas happen," she said.

The grants Cougar Zone receives is used for staffing and supplies, and donations from the community goes directly to student activities.

Cougar Zone regularly helps the community including filling eggs for Clarkson's Easter egg hunt, makings Valentines and helping with the 5k.

"Students are taught that to give back. If you receive, you give back," said Kiper.

She said that it is important to show the students positive relationships with the community because sometimes they only see the bad.

Kiper wants to thank every one of the Cougar Zone sponsors who have donated money, gift cards, their time and items to help different clubs.

These sponsors include: Dairy Queen, Huddle House, Fuller Physical Therapy, Wendy's, O'Reilly, Family Video, Cherry Bomb Games, Auto Zone, Next Motorsports, Rally's, Little Caesars, Sonic, Advanced Auto Parts, Save-a-lot, Scotty's, Papa John's, DW Dually Customs, Spiritually Crafted, Center Court, Corner Store, Leitchfield Extermination, Auto Smart, 4 Season's Nails, Olivia Hosclaw, Roots hair salon, Leitchfield veterinary clinic, McCubbins Furniture, Ashley Hogan Reality, Pet Wash Grooming, Twin Lakes Counseling, Adam Cart, Captain D's, The Dog House, Bel Brands, Fort Knox Credit Union, Potter's Hope, Farm Bureau, Tex Hawkins, L and L Sales, Sew Much More, Caught Ya Lookin', Center for Women's Ministries, Leitchfield Police Department, Grayson County Sheriff's Office, EMS, Kentucky State Police, Leitchfield City Council, Extension Office, Detention Center, Leitchfield Pediatrics, food Pantry, Ron and Angela Laymon, Redneck Ranch, Linda Sells, Joann Johnson, Jo Escue and Angie Jones.

According to Kiper, there are many ways you can help.

"If you want to help any kind of youth program and don't know how, just call someone," she said.

For Cougar Zone's cooking club, a $25 donation would get all of the ingredients for four teams to have a cook-off, according to Kiper.

If you want to know more about Cougar Zone or you want to donate time, money or items, contact Jessica Kiper at (270) 259-4175 or jessica.kiper@grayson.kyschools.us.