Project GRAD earning support

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula, a reform program working to improve student achievement at 12 area schools, has received grants to help send program graduates to college.

Most recently, the program, which started last year at Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Razdolna, Tyonek and Voznesenka schools, received $60,000 from Unocal Alaska Inc. and the Unocal Foundation to support a scholarship program for Ninilchik students.

The Houston-based national program provides high-needs schools with curriculum and staff assistance. It offers summer institutes for students and guarantees program graduates $4,000 for college or post-secondary training.

The first round of scholarships $1,000 per year for students who complete the program will be given to this year's sophomores, the first Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula class, starting in three years. The program will continue with this year's freshmen at the seven schools, who are signing commitments with the program this month.

Michael Hawfield, development director for the local initiative, said the group is working hard to collect funds to pay out all the promised scholarships. Affiliates of the national Project GRAD program already serve approximately 130,000 students across the country, where scholarships are being paid out of donations from corporations, businesses and individuals.

Locally, Hawfield said fund-raising is going strong.

Sen. Ted Stevens has backed the Kenai Peninsula effort the first Project GRAD implementation in Alaska and has set up the Ted Stevens Family Scholarship Fund to encourage businesses and individuals to give to the program.

And though the Unocal donation, which will provide $15,000 a year for four years to Ninilchik students who complete the program, is not part of Stevens' fund, the senator did commend the effort.

"This is a program that is one of the important tools for helping Alaskan village students to succeed and meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act," Stevens was quoted as saying in the Project GRAD press release.

"Research-based programs like Project GRAD offering math and literacy assistance to teachers and school leaders, as well as tutoring, mentoring and leadership skills for students, are absolutely necessary for student success."

Unocal is not alone in its donation, either.

Hawfield said Marathon Oil gave $5,000 to support the program's summer institutes, which help prepare village students for college life.

"They'll also be helping with scholarships down the road," Hawfield said.

In addition, he said, other businesses and individuals have made steady donations, which are invaluable to fund-raising.

"It's a slow and constant business."

Project GRAD, which stands for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, started in Houston in 1988 and has spread to more than 10 cities across the country. The Kenai Peninsula branch is the first rural effort for the program and is targeting lower-performing village schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The program has made a 12-year commitment to the district, guaranteeing ongoing staff development, student outreach and scholarships starting with this year's sophomore class, in an effort to improve assessment scores, increase graduation rates and send more students to college and trade schools.

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