Susan Hill, college access adviser for Kansas Kids GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) spoke this week to the USD 503 Board of Education regarding the program actively helping students in Parsons.
GEAR UP is a college access program that is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Education designed to help disadvantaged students prepare for post-secondary education. Kansas Kids GEAR UP (KKGU) is a statewide program hosted by Wichita State University serving middle and high school students. The program branches out into six regions throughout the state.
Kansas is the only Gear project in the nation funded by the Department of Education that focuses solely on foster care students, Hill told the board.
Wichita State’s Kansas Kids GEAR UP program provides early intervention services and educational resources to help students in grades seven to 12 succeed in graduating from high school and being prepared to enroll in college.
The governor approved the first grant program for Kansas in 2002. In August 2015, a new seven-year grant was approved for the Kansas GEAR UP program administered by WSU.
The grant was $2.6 million, requiring a match of $3.5 million that can be met through various means, such as contributions of office space, staff, classroom space, as well as monetary and in-kind donations from individuals, businesses and organizations.
The Kansas program serves 2,500 foster children, Hill said. Forty-five staff members serve the six regions in the state.
Region 1, located in Southeast Kansas, serves students in Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, Labette, Linn, Neosho, Montgomery, Wilson and Woodson counties.
Hill said services have been focused more in the Pittsburg area in past years, because of coordinators being located there, and elsewhere. However, with USD 503 Superintendent Shelly Martin requesting a greater presence in Parsons to meet foster students needs, and a satellite office being provided in the USD 503 district, services to Labette County area will be have now increased.
Around 15 to 20 students are a part of the program at Parsons High School, “and there is a whole other mess of kids at the middle school,” Hill said.
Martin said she is very excited to have Hill in USD 503 to coordinate serves for the many foster students in Parsons High School and Parsons Middle School.
Students spend time with Hill during planned periods such as Viking Time or Grizzly Time. Hill also meets with students at the Youth Crisis Shelter.
Among the services offered are mentoring, college preparation and financial aid counseling, Saturday programs and summer and cultural activities.
In middle school, students are introduced to the idea of college and begin to discuss the future, what they want to be and what they need to do to get there.
In high school, that deepens into developing that idea, discussing the pros and cons of attending college far away from home, career exploration, college visits, ACT preparation, scholarship essay writing, volunteer work and other activities.
In students’ senior year, they receive assistance with discussing colleges they wish to attend, filling out scholarship forms and FAFSAs. KKGU also has a scholarship program to help with the cost of a college education, beyond costs covered by tuition waivers.
“We follow them through their first year of college to make sure they are doing OK and to be there if they need any support,” Hill said.
Social workers, foster parents, teachers and administrators can notify Hill of a foster student in the area that qualifies for the program, based on their age.
The faster a student is able to be enrolled in the program, the greater their chances for success, Hill said, especially in an academic environment which may frequently change based on them being moved from one foster home to another.
The student and their foster parent or social worker complete an application and initial survey. A plan of support is developed for the student, called a college access plan.
Once a foster child is enrolled in the program, if the student is transferred to a new school, the adviser can call ahead to the adviser at the new school so the student has a group they can immediately be a part of when they arrive, Hill said.
“Once they are enrolled in the program, they remain a part of the program no matter where they move in the state,” Hill said.
Source: Parsons Sun