Local schools included in $49M grant

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Demopolis and Linden city school systems are two of 18 school districts that were chosen to be part of GEAR UP Alabama, a seven-year, $49 million grant to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant program provides funding to states to enhance services for students, parents and teachers at high-poverty middle and high schools.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will be the hub of GEAR UP Alabama, which will impact about 10,448 students from 18 school districts and 53 schools in Alabama’s Black Belt.

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“This will follow current sixth and seventh grade students through their first year of college,” Demopolis Superintendent Al Griffin said. “The grant will provide a full-time staff member for these students that will offer assistance in any area needed.”

This is the first time Alabama has been awarded funds from GEAR UP, which began in 1998. UAB’s annual federal award of $3.5 million will be matched by state and project partners, including the Alabama State Department of Education, Alabama State University, Auburn University, the Black Belt Community Foundation, Regions Bank, the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo. Partners outside Alabama include Allied Practice and Kaplan K12 Learning Services. Key letters of support came from Gov. Robert Bentley and Tommy Bice, Ph.D., state superintendent of education.

“Education is the basis for future growth of Alabama’s economy,” Bentley said. “This grant will help build a solid foundation for our children and will set them up to succeed by being better prepared for post-secondary education and to join the workforce. The program that this grant funds will be welcome support in our state’s Black Belt region, with some of our most at-need students who attend high-poverty schools. Over the life of this program, we hope to see more of these students being successful in school and in life.”

Griffin said there will be a meeting in December about the grant.

“We’ll find out more about the staff-person and how that will work for us, but we’re excited about the grant and to be part of it,” he said. “We’re thankful it’s fully funded. I think it’s a great opportunity for our students.”

GEAR UP’s goals are to increase the academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education, improve high school graduation and college enrollment rates, increase participating student and family knowledge of postsecondary educational options and financing, and increase program teacher preparation to serve GEAR UP students.