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UW-Eau Claire Receives $2.4 Million Gear Up Grant

RELEASED: Aug. 12, 2005

Gear Up LogoEAU CLAIRE — More than 500 students at four northern Wisconsin schools will get new resources and encouragement to help them pursue a post-secondary education thanks to a $2.4 million federal grant awarded this week to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

About $410,000 will be awarded to the program annually for six years under the Gear Up Partnership Grant awarded by the federal Department of Education.

UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout collaborated to develop the proposal, which focuses on strengthening schools and providing opportunities to 513 low-income students in grades three through seven attending the Winter Public Schools, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe School, Menominee Tribal School and schools in the Menominee Indian School District. About 75 percent of the students attending the targeted schools are Native Americans.

"Our proposal is ambitious but very doable," said Marge Hebbring, who co-wrote the grant and is director of UW-Eau Claire's existing Gear Up program. "It will fund services that include assessment, tutoring and mentoring, increased academic achievement, pre-college camps, college preparatory class enrollment, and providing information about colleges and careers. It also will help increase family involvement in education."

The program supports students as young as third-grade because research shows that students can begin to disengage from their education by that time, Hebbring said, noting that the need for remedial education can be documented early when reading scores fall below average.

"I like that the program identifies students at young ages and supports those students over a period of years," said Interim Provost Steve Tallant. "This multi-year approach increases the chances of the students preparing for, pursuing and succeeding in postsecondary education."

Other problems that impact educational success in these communities are poor performance on standardized tests, lack of role models, unresolved family/community issues, and differences between traditional Native American learning styles and the learning styles that are rewarded in typical classrooms, Hebbring said.

"The students who will be served through the grant have real economic, academic and social needs that place them at extreme risk of educational failure," Hebbring said.

Forty-six percent of the adults in the target areas didn't graduate from high school and just 8 percent have college degrees, Hebbring said. Statistics show that Native Americans are the most underrepresented group in nearly every profession in the United States, she said, adding that there is a critical need for Native American teachers and nurses throughout the country.

The grant proposes to recruit Native American college students as tutors and mentors, increasing elementary and middle school students' interaction with Native Americans who are pursuing a college education and planning for a challenging career. It also provides training and development support to teachers, counselors and administrators at the schools.

The grant includes numerous other initiatives, including developing local assessment standards in core subjects, involving parents in reading activities with their children, providing pre-college camps, enrolling more students in college preparatory course, and developing career fairs and financial aid workshops for students and parents.

"We want parents to understand the importance of their involvement in their students' education," Hebbring said. "In this population, extended family relationships are key to success."

A Partnership Council — with members from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, the four schools, a parent group, and business and community organizations — will oversee the grant. UW-Eau Claire will be the fiscal agent.

Gear Up was created in 1998 to support college preparation and awareness activities for low-income students. Grants serve public school districts where a majority of students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches. UW-Eau Claire was among the first of the recipients, receiving a $1.4 million award to support students at the Lac du Flambeau Public School.

The grant is an example of UW-Eau Claire identifying a need in the state and securing the resources to help address those needs, said Tallant.

"The university has a long history of forming partnerships with communities like those in Northern Wisconsin, which is a severely economically depressed area," Tallant said. "As an interactive, public regional university, part of our mission is to help meet the needs of our region and state."

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JB

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