College Prep Grants Bring Students to Berea

Oct 26, 2011

Both the Jackson Independent Schools and the Breathitt County Schools will be getting grant money through two separate partnership programs sponsored by Berea College. The two schools are among 19 districts in Eastern, Southeastern and Central Kentucky who will be getting the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness (GEAR UP) grants from the U. S. Department of Education, totaling almost $10.7 million each year for the next seven years.

Those grants will help teachers, administrators and parents and students better prepare for college and post-secondary education. And in these rough economic times when finding dollars to fund education are fewer and far between, the grants – and the partnerships – are very much welcome.

“We're very excited about it. This will bring in about $850,000 to Jackson City School for the next seven years. That's about $119,000 a year,” said Tim Spencer, who's the Superintendent of the Jackson Independent Schools. In an interview last Friday, Spencer told the Times-Voice that while the grant money will be helpful, preparing the students for college is priority one. “This year, we'll work with students in Grades 1-7 on this, and a lot of it will be getting students college-ready. It's all about helping them improve their academic performance, increase our graduation rate, and help their parents with options for post-secondary schooling, financing their schooling, and help them along with their children.”

JCS is one of eight public school districts in the region involved in “GEAR UP Appalachia!”, which partners them with Berea College. Together the eight districts serve more than 6,200 students in 22 schools.

“We'll have what's called a 'GEAR UP' Cohort', who will go around working with teachers and students. If those students have issues with attendance or testing, for example, we'll provide different instructional and interview strategies in the future so they will be college ready,” replied Spencer. “There will also be college visits set up with the students, and they'll have easy access to college forms. We don't want the kids to be afraid of college.”

The Breathitt County Schools are one of 11 public school districts in the region partnering with Berea College in “Promise Neighborhood GEAR UP.” As a group the 11 districts serve more than 7,000 schools in 44 schools. At press time, the amount of grant money the county schools will receive was not available.

The announcement of the program was made last week at Berea College. “Preparing our youth for achieving success in college is an extension of Berea's commitment to serving our region and preparing students to be engaged citizens and lifelong learners,” said Dreama Gentry, who's the school's Director of Externally Sponsored Programs. “Receiving these awards is a testament to the strong partnerships we have with schools and communities in Appalachian Kentucky, where together we will dramatically increase the numbers of students who graduate from high school and successfully complete college.”

The college's GEAR UP staff will work with the teachers, students and parents at each school, making sure each student will have have help, both at school and at home, preparing for college. Tutoring, college visits, professional development, career exploration activities, parent engagement work and financial literacy classes are among the services that will be offered in the next seven years.

Altogether the total money involved in the two programs comes up to total of almost $75 million through 2018.

Both GEAR UP programs will partner with other educational and community organizations, which include Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC), Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and 22 other community groups in Eastern, Southeastern and Central Kentucky.