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Blugold Beginnings receives $85,000 grant to continue serving area youth

RELEASED: Sept. 16, 2010

graphic image for Blugold BeginningsEAU CLAIRE — A program that encourages young at-risk students to pursue higher education will continue thanks to an $85,000 grant awarded to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The grant — which will support UW-Eau Claire's Blugold Beginnings program — came from the Wisconsin College Access Challenge Grant, which is administered by the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. on behalf of the state of Wisconsin.

The funding will support the elementary-school component of the Blugold Beginnings program, which serves more than 1,000 fifth-graders from west-central Wisconsin schools.

"We're very excited that we can continue our work with these young students," said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students and the author of the grant. "The students and teachers have been very happy with the program. We know we're making a difference and we're thrilled that we have the funding to continue so we can reach even more young people."

Through Blugold Beginnings, UW-Eau Claire students serve as tutors and mentors for fifth-graders at Eau Claire Area School District schools with high rates of students receiving free and reduced lunches, Thesing-Ritter said. A spring field trip brings all fifth-grade students from all Eau Claire elementary schools and several schools in surrounding districts to the UW-Eau Claire campus.

"Our students and families have gained a wonderful 'picture' of what college is, both visually and cognitively," said Chad Erickson, the principal at Sherman Elementary School in Eau Claire. "This new 'picture' is what they can continue to talk and think about as they grow and learn in middle and high school. We look forward each year to this wonderful collaboration with UW-Eau Claire and the relationships that stem from it. It also ties perfectly into our district goal of preparing each child for post-secondary experiences."

UW-Eau Claire mentors will begin working with current fifth-grade students by the end of September, said Lissa Martinez, Blugold Beginnings program coordinator. The schools involved in last year's program provided valuable feedback, which has helped shape this year's effort, she said.

"We will use all that we learned in our first year to make the second year even better," Martinez said of the elementary component of the program.

The programming for elementary school students allows UW-Eau Claire to provide as many young 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 because their parents didn't attend college, they've earned poor grades or their families' incomes wouldn't be sufficient to pay college tuition costs," Thesing-Ritter said. "Through Blugold Beginnings, these young students learn that those factors need not be barriers to continuing their education after high school."

The Blugold Beginnings program has high school, middle school and elementary school components, all of which are designed to increase college access through precollege outreach, especially for at-risk youth.

For more information about the grant or the Blugold Beginnings program, contact Jodi Thesing-Ritter at 715-836-2325 or thesinjm@uwec.edu.

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JB/DW

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