The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has begun a partnership with a Houston-based organization that has the potential to change the face of education, not only on the peninsula but throughout the state.
Project GRAD USA is a school-reform program that offers staff development, curriculum consistency and graduation incentives to participating schools. Best of all, the program has results to support that what it teaches works. Independent evaluations show that Project GRAD schools produce:
Students with better grades and higher scores on achievement tests;
Students with improved classroom behavior;
Teachers with better training;
Parents who are more directly involved in their children's education.
Statistics show that Project GRAD has increased the number of students graduating from high school, going to college and completing their college education. That's important for economic reasons not only for the individual students but for communities where they live. As Project GRAD officials note: "Almost all the jobs that pay enough to support a family now require higher levels of literacy, language fluency and technical training. To a greater extent than ever before, there is a direct relationship between educational success and social and economic opportunity."
Project GRAD is a reminder that a good education is about more than reading, writing and arithmetic. The program's name is an acronym for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams. From our standpoint, that means the program helps show students how school lessons are relevant, applicable and necessary to reach one's potential and that students can achieve what they dare to dream.
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman captured the essence of Project GRAD last week as he related a personal experience from his school days in Ninilchik. A high school teacher had encouraged him to apply to participate in a national program. The program involved some effort on the student's part and Leman wasn't sure it was worth the time and effort. He asked the teacher what she thought the chances were of some student from Ninilchik, Alaska, being selected to participate.
Her answer: "Just as good as anybody else's."
Leman completed the work, was selected and traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
"It was an event that changed my life," Leman told a small group gathered to learn more about Project GRAD and its implications for students and education throughout the borough.
Where students grow up should not determine what they are able to achieve and accomplish with their lives. A family's income should not be the deciding factor in whose dreams come true and whose don't. A small school or community should not equal less potential.
Project GRAD helps do away with those kinds of barriers. It opens doors to all kind of possibilities to students who may not have realized they had unlimited opportunity.
That, however, takes a commitment on the part of the entire community. Kids cannot do it alone. They need mentors, cheerleaders and believers in their dreams. They need money for their college education.
In the weeks ahead, Project GRAD likely will be seeking advice, ideas, time and financial support from all sectors of the community. Our hope is they will receive an enthusiastic response.
While the program first will target schools in Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Razdolna, Tyonek and Voznesenka, it is expected to have ripple effects throughout the borough. Because the borough is a microcosm of the entire state, it also has the potential to be the role model for the rest of Alaska in schools large and small.
There may be no better indicator of a community's health than the success of all its students. Project GRAD may be just the spark needed to involve parents and others in making that community dream a reality.
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