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A school where Appalachian values meet big-city mores

This week in a dim room in one of Cincinnati's poorest neighborhoods a revolution is under way. There were no headlines. No one took to the streets about it. Except for a few special students, the event went almost unheralded.

For the first time in its history, this white, Appalachian neighborhood, called Lower Price Hill, is hosting college classes. This is finals week.

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''Oh, it's over,'' sighed Kelly Smith after his sociology final on Monday. ''I think I remembered more than I thought I would.''

Kelly is one of eight students taking their first college courses. Most of them were high school dropouts until recently.

For the past 10 years, the Lower Price Hill Community School has been giving high school dropouts a chance to get their high school equivalency degree, the GED. But the school had few means of helping its ''graduates'' beyond that.

So a year ago, Jake Kroger, school coordinator, set up a program whereby Xavier University in Cincinnati provides professors to teach beginning college courses here. Last fall, 12 Lower Price Hill ''graduates'' signed up for college courses in sociology, math, written communications, history, and study skills. Eight have survived.

''I'm surprising myself,'' says Regina Hurt. ''I'm doing something I never thought I could.''

''I wanted this all my life,'' adds Sandra Kraft, a mother of three who had been out of school almost 20 years before she got her GED in August. ''It's a dream come true for me.''

These students are all urban Appalachian - a word most of them don't understand but a term used to describe people who have immigrated from eastern Kentucky and other rural areas in Appalachia. They are fiercely independent, generally poor, with strong family ties. And, although they make up about 25 percent of Cincinnati's population, they are considered largely invisible in terms of the political structure, says Mike Maloney of the Appalachian People's Service Organization Inc.

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For example, 10 years ago the city's black population brought a suit against the school board - controlled by middle- and upper-class whites - to integrate Cincinnati's public schools. Even if the schools are integrated, Mr. Maloney says, it will not meet the needs of Appalachians, who often find the school systems too large and bureaucratic.

''I've never really thought of us as invisible,'' says Evelyn Hurt, who is one of Lower Price Hill's new college students and also president of the board of the community school. ''We were invisible until we started climbing out.''

Where does the motivation come from? Mr. Kroger says his most motivated students are welfare mothers, who, in many cases, have ''a real determination to get off it.''

''I'm on welfare, and I don't want to raise my baby on welfare,'' says Regina.

''Most of us started out because we wanted a better life for our kids,'' says Evelyn, who did not get her GED the first time around. ''I guess a lot of us realized it was for ourselves too.''

The community school is periodically short of cash. Besides Kroger, whose primary function is fund-raising, there is one full-time and one part-time teacher to serve 93 students who signed up for GED training this year.

A year ago, funds were so short that Kroger laid himself off for three weeks with the board's permission. Currently the school has enough money to continue through next February, he says, but March could be a problem.

In a sense, the college program is a trial balloon.

''We're the first,'' Regina says. ''We're going to be the ones that get blamed if it fails.''

But if they succeed, says Evelyn, ''There are so many others that are going to come here.''

''We're each other's cheerleaders in a way,'' Sandra says. ''We're going to make it. We're going to make it.''

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