By most definitions the Kenai Peninsula is a rural community, yet our Borough is made of many separate rural communities within this vast rural community, a fact that has presented many challenges over the years to the Kenai Peninsula School District.
Now a program, ironically designed to help underachieving students in urban school districts, may assist some of those challenges. Project GRAD USA, a Houston-based national program, has selected the Kenai Peninsula to start its program in rural communities.
According to Eric Graves, National Director of Site Development and Communication for Project GRAD USA, the program is a whole school reform model that targets grades K-12 to help schools improve basic reading and math skills as well as classroom management programs and ultimately provides 4-year scholarships for students to go to any college or university in the United States. "We involve the whole community to enhance the education process and support the school district in their efforts to better educate students," explained Graves at a kick-off breakfast attended by local educators, community leaders, and Lt. Governor Loren Leman. For the last year Project GRAD has been meeting with officials, principals, and KPBSD Board members to align the programs goals with the community and State standards to avoid duplication and provide on-site assistance with teachers and parents to enhance the education process and achieve better grades, test scores, attitudes and behavior.
Project GRAD presently is in 10 U.S. cities and serves 130,000 some students, "We're talking about disadvantaged communities throughout the United States and we are seeing our students go to college and graduate at six times the normal rate," said Graves. The seven communities that will be included in the program this fall are Ninilchik, Nikolaevsk, Voznesenka, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Razdolna, and Tyonek. Starting with students in their freshman year in these communities, $4,000 scholarships will be available to those who graduate from high school and wish to go on to college. "Project GRAD is an unusual non-profit in that we bring resources to the table, we are coming in to the Kenai Peninsula with 25% of the budget in our pockets. We get that support from the Department of Education, the Ford Foundation, and from our other sponsors. The District will be re-allocating in-kind resources that will match that percentage of the budget and the balance or other 50% will come from the local non-profit organization that is being set up in your community," said Graves.
"We're excited about the difference Project GRAD will make for kids in these communities, and the point to make is that we are using existing resources that would have been used for something else, but are now being targeted for Project GRAD so it's not additional cost to the district but money coming in from other sources to make a difference in these schools," commented Superintendent of Schools Donna Peterson. "We believe that this is the catalyst for change to improve reading, writing, and math skills in these communities. This one program ties it all together and we feel the training this program will provide in these schools will translate to all our other schools and improve over all test results district wide. We are doing what is right for kids, and that's what it's all about," added Peterson.
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