Programs at 10 school districts in Eastern Washington will benefit from a $25 million grant to WSU Tri-Cities.
The university received its seventh seven-year Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare students in low-income schools to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.
The university has been part of the program since 2002.
The money will pay for programs in Walla Walla, College Place, Dayton, Prescott, Touchet, Kennewick, Othello, Warden, Moses Lake and Soap Lake.
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The university plans to hire 100 people across the districts to provide assistance to students, so they can attend a college or a university.
Students start in the program during six and seventh grade, and receive assistance throughout high school. The employees act as mentors, helping the students with homework, grammar and other life skills.
To be eligible for the program, 50 percent or more of the students at a school need to be eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.
“(The program) will really make a difference in our communities, especially for first-generation and underrepresented populations,” said Chuck Hallsted, the WSU Tri-Cities GEAR UP director.
The program ending in 2015 led to 25 percent more eighth-grade students passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, 29 percent more 10th-grade students passing the High School Proficiency Exam in math, and a 75 percent increase in the students passing the same test for science.
“This data represents a collaboration with teachers,” said Jeffrey Dennison, the WSU Tri-Cities’ director of marketing and communications. “We cannot take sole credit by any means.”
The GEAR UP program is coming to Highlands and Park middle schools within the next couple of months, said Chuck Lybeck, the Kennewick School District’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Highlands will receive about $228,000 and Park will receive about $220,000 during the first two years of the program.
The money will help hire a site director and a student achievement specialist for each of the schools, along with helping to fund other programs, Lybeck said.
“It’s a pretty cool program,” he said.
This is the second time the school district participated, Lybeck said. The previous grant program allowed the district to hold a science, technology, engineering and math camp, as well as arrange for trips to colleges and mentoring services.
“They’ll have more tutoring than we normally provide,” he said. “It can provide some summer program services to get kids up to speed academically.”
As the students move into high school, they will continue to receive assistance.
Program employees help students with financial aid applications, and pre-SAT, SAT and ACT testing.
“We have a great partnership with WSU,” he said.