The graduation rate for Birmingham City Schools is 79 percent. It's a number the school board would like to see continue to rise. Four years ago, it launched career academies in high schools. Now, the district will use a $19 million grant to gear up younger students for future careers.
The federal Gear Up grant will target sixth and seventh grade students for college and career readiness. Programs could begin as early as this June.
In other states, the Gear Up Grant has proven to be successful. The numbers show students in the program raised the graduation rate, college application rate and college retention rate by 20-percent.
Mackenzie Weathersby is a seventh grade student at Green Acres Elementary School who has big dreams.
"I want to be a plastic surgeon but I want to do a little bit of everything,” said Weathersby.
A new program called "Gear Up" is aimed at helping Weathersby accomplish that goal.
All sixth and seventh graders in Birmingham City Schools will participate in the program.
"It's a good time for me to learn now cause I would know a lot more when I grow up,” said Weathersby.
The $19 million dollar will follow 3,600 students who are now in 6th and 7th grades.
“The beauty of this grant is that these moneys will follow this cohort of students until the completion of their first year in college,” explained Dr. Donna Turner, project coordinator. “So whatever the students need in order to be successful- the grant will pay for that."
Turner says projects will include tutoring geared towards math, technology and science.
"In addition to that we will also have mentoring programs to also target those students who are considered at risk,” added Turner. “By at risk I mean students who have a number of suspensions, unexcused absences or their grades were a bit subpar."
The grant will also cover overnight summer camps geared toward science, technology, engineering and math.
"We will take care of that cost and students have the opportunity not only to go and get a bit of academic enrichment but they also get the experience of being exposed to that college culture,” explained Turner.
The gear up program will partner with local businesses so students can begin job shadowing. Also, each of these students will be tested to create a career profile. The profile will be used to help the student choose a career academy in Birmingham City High Schools.
On May 15, there will be a Gear Up kickoff meeting at Parker High School for parents teachers and principals to learn more.
Source: Alabama's News Leader