LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - "If it wasn't for school, I don't know what I'd do. They help with coats and feed them. They make sure they're warm."
Lisa Bentley is the guardian of two grandchildren. Her grandchildren are part of the more than half of Fayette County students that are at, near, or below the poverty line.
"That means one out of every two kids you see is either living in poverty or just above the poverty line. That's hard for most people to imagine," said Superintendent of Fayette County Schools Dr. Tom Shelton. Shelton says more than 50% of students in Fayette County qualify for free or reduced lunches, making poverty one of the biggest challenge his district faces.
"Most people, especially people outside of Lexington, would find that amazingly shocking," Shelton said.
Lisa Bentley says her school resource counselor helps her get by, and links them to more help in the community, which is one of Dr. Shelton's goals.
"We, as a community, are going to have to step up and address how do we break the cycle of poverty."
One way, Shelton says, is to start early.
"The single biggest impact you can make on a child being successful in school is how ready are they when they get there."
Shelton says children need preschool, and districts should provide those opportunities. He says children without schooling before kindergarten end up developmentally years behind those who are able to be in a preschool program.
"If we had those opportunities," Shelton says, "we could significantly reduce achievement gaps and help students break the cycles of poverty."