University partners in Grand Island college-readiness program

University partners in Grand Island college-readiness program

Green interviews
Greg Nathan | University Communication
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green is interviewed by reporters following the Oct. 15 announcement of the GEAR UP PROMISE program in Grand Island. The university will work with Grand Island Public Schools to develop a college-readiness program to serve more than 1,000 sixth- and seventh-grade students, following them through high school and into their first year of college.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln will work with Grand Island Public Schools to develop a college-readiness program to serve more than 1,000 sixth- and seventh-grade students, following them through high school and into their first year of college.

Grand Island Public Schools has been tapped for a six-year, $6 million federal grant to launch its program, called GEAR UP PROMISE. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a U.S. Department of Education program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college. The Grand Island district is the first in Nebraska to be awarded a GEAR UP grant.

“We are thrilled about the opportunity to build on our strong history of partnering with Grand Island Public Schools,” said Chancellor Ronnie Green during an Oct. 15 news conference announcing the grant. “As the university and the Grand Island Public Schools both understand, supporting our students is tremendously important to their success. I am excited to see what these Grand Island students will achieve through their grit and the backing of this new program.”

Grand Island’s program, Partners, Resources and Opportunities Matching Individualized Supports and Education (PROMISE), will feature 360-degree student support, with personalized academic support for students with increased rigor to prepare them for college; expanded professional development and training for the students’ teachers; and increased financial literacy for the students’ families.

Tawana Grover, superintendent of Grand Island Public Schools, said higher education support is crucial to the program's success.

"It took one phone call to UNL and they said 'we will support you,'" she said. "We had to get higher education support even to get started."

The university’s role will include summer “bridge” programs to help students transition from high school to college, as well as on-campus and on-site professional development services for teachers. In support of the initiative, the university will contribute $394,869 of in-kind services and receive $500,000 in grant funds from the Department of Education, for a total investment of $894,869.

Amber Williams, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at the university, also participated in the news conference. Under her leadership, the university established the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy at Grand Island Senior High School in 2006, with the goal of increasing both the college-going rate and the college graduation rate of first-generation, low-income students.

Now expanded to four schools, the NCPA has resulted in strong college retention and graduation rates among students who successfully complete the program.

“Grand Island Public Schools has been a great partner and we’re honored to work with them on this larger initiative,” Williams said.

The university is among at least 15 partners providing in-kind contributions of $6.6 million to the program. Other partners include Central Community College, the Nebraska Department of Labor, Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce and Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp., CHI Health St. Francis, First National Bank of Omaha, Chief Industries, Gallup, Grand Island Public Schools Foundation, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Central Nebraska Community Partnership, EducationQuest, Everfi, Educational Service Unit 10, and Learning Sciences International. Grand Island Public Schools also will provide a $1 million in-kind contribution, for a total project amount of nearly $13.7 million.

Matt Blomstedt, Nebraska's Commissioner of Education, said he expects the program will have ripple effects throughout the school district, changing classroom behavior, teaching practices and family engagement.

"But this would not have happened without Grand Island's past record with the college preparatory academy," he added.

Grand Island Public Schools serve 10,814 students, with 69 percent low income, 54 percent students of color, 19 percent English learners and 19 percent with disabilities.