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UW-Eau Claire Receives State Grant for Precollege Awareness Program

RELEASED: June 11, 2009

UW-Eau Claire student mentor Sarah Gonzalez with fifth-graders from Sherman Elementary School.
Sarah Gonzalez, in blue, a UW-Eau Claire student mentor during the pilot Blugold Beginnings outreach program this spring, enjoyed lunch on the Central Campus Mall with fifth-graders from Sherman Elementary during their field trip day on campus. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Jodi Thesing-Ritter)

EAU CLAIRE — More than 1,000 fifth-graders in west-central Wisconsin will participate during the next academic year in programming aimed at increasing their access to a college education, thanks to a recent $120,000 grant received by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

On June 8, Gov. Jim Doyle announced UW-Eau Claire's selection for the grant, allocated from the Wisconsin College Access Challenge Grant, which is administered by the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. on behalf of the state. UW-Eau Claire was selected from among nine Wisconsin colleges and universities that competed for the funding to replicate UW-Green Bay's successful Phuture Phoenix program to encourage young at-risk students to pursue higher education.

The grant will support UW-Eau Claire's development of an elementary school component to its Blugold Beginnings program, a multifaceted effort to expand access to college through precollege outreach. Blugold Beginnings also has a high school component, started with reallocated UW-Eau Claire funds, and a middle school component, created with support from a UW System Committee on Baccalaureate Expansion grant.

"We are very excited to work with UW-Green Bay staff who will pass on what they've learned in their six years offering the Phuture Phoenix program in eastern Wisconsin," said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire associate dean of students and principal author of the grant.

The Blugold Beginnings programming for elementary school students will enable UW-Eau Claire to provide as many precollege students as possible with "college knowledge," Thesing-Ritter said.

"By middle school, many students already are getting the message that they can't go to college," whether because their parents didn't attend college, the students have earned poor grades in elementary or middle school, or their families' incomes would not be sufficient to pay college tuition costs, she said. Through Blugold Beginnings, these young students learn that those factors need not be barriers to continuing their education after high school, she said.

This spring, UW-Eau Claire conducted a successful pilot outreach program for elementary students with the fifth-graders from Sherman Elementary School in Eau Claire, Thesing-Ritter said.

"The teachers and kids were very pleased with the program and have talked about it for a month afterward," she said. "With our small sample size for the pilot program, I know we made a big difference in just a little bit of time."

Through Blugold Beginnings, UW-Eau Claire students will serve as tutors and mentors throughout the 2009-10 school year for fifth-graders at the four Eau Claire Area School District schools with the highest rates of students receiving free and reduced lunches, Thesing-Ritter said. A spring 2010 field trip day on the UW-Eau Claire campus also will be provided to fifth-grade students from all Eau Claire district schools and schools in surrounding districts that choose to participate.

The grant money also will support the development of a mentoring and tutoring course in UW-Eau Claire's College of Education and Human Sciences. The course will be available to university students who wish to work as Blugold Beginnings mentors and tutors.

Sarah Gonzalez, a UW-Eau Claire senior psychology major from Sheboygan, has been working as an intern with the Blugold Beginnings program.

"I am so excited that we've received this grant," Gonzalez said. "We now have the chance to show that programs such as this one are effective in providing opportunities to otherwise underrepresented students, and this will hopefully lead to other programs being implemented in the future. I am so proud that this project is finally becoming a reality."

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JP/NW

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