Since 2003, Project GRAD has worked to impact a generational change by working with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, finding a variety of successes in a selection of the district’s rural schools.
“Our mission is to really help underserved students in our rural K-12 schools,” said Project GRAD Executive Director Jane Beck. “We work in the fly-in villages and the Russian Old Believers, so we have an interesting selection of schools that we support.”
The program works with more than 400 K-12 students who attend the Nanwalek, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Razdolna, Tebughna and Voznesenka schools. It is the first branch of the national GRAD program, which stands for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, to be adapted for a rural site.
Funding for Project GRAD comes from several grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the Alaskan Native Education Program in addition to private and corporate donations.
“They provide a lot of opportunity for kids to see leaders in action, to develop leadership skills and their own character development,” Ninilchik Principal Jeff Ambroshier said.
The program works to expand students’ horizons while at the same time expanding on opportunities in the classroom and in their community.
Project GRAD exposes students to postsecondary support by guiding them through their options for after graduation through a selection of events during the school year and summer, such as college campus visits or job shadowing.
The program also offers several opportunities for students to travel out of their small, rural areas for further youth development, like one Ninilchik student who went to Juneau to sit in on the Alaska Legislature, Ambroshier said.
During the summer months, Project GRAD offers a Summer College Institute for high school students at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus that focuses on leadership, arts and postsecondary success, Beck said.
By participating in at least two summer college programs, like the institute, and graduating with a 2.5 GPA, a Project GRAD student can receive a $4,000 scholarship to pursue the post-secondary education of their choice.
Since its inception, more than $100,000 in scholarship funds have been awarded, with 75 students utilizing the scholarship for at least one year since 2007.
In the classroom, Project GRAD works with teachers to improve student engagement and overall instruction. The staff provides a variety of professional development techniques and experiences, such as Ambroshier’s recent trip to Virginia for a seminar.
“They can come in and take data and work with teachers. … And it’s not through me, not through an evaluation, so it’s strictly confidential,” Ambroshier said.
In the community, the program works to ensure that each student has five people in their life that they can count on, Beck said.
“It’s what we call the other side of the report card,” she said. “We talk to students about developing a healthy relationship with adults in their life, to find adult anchors. … To develop healthy relationships with adults who will encourage them and be there for them through their celebrations and challenges.”
Over the past 14 years, Project GRAD has been “fantastic for us,” Ambroshier said.
“It’s not only helping the kids create and find out about leadership positions, it’s helping students become more academically successful because not only do you have the direct support, but then you have kids becoming more confident. They can advocate for themselves better and that in turn helps them become better academically,” he said.
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