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KU lands grant to help KCK students reach, succeed in postsecondary education

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers have secured a grant for more than $18 million that will allow them to provide seven years of support to more than 3,000 middle school students with disadvantaged backgrounds in Kansas City, Kansas. The grant's goal is to ensure they acquire the skills needed to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

The Department of Education awarded $2.6 million a year for seven years to the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs within KU’s Achievement & Assessment Institute to implement a program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. GEAR UP will employ hands-on tactics to support 3,328 Kansas City Kansas Public Schools students, currently in sixth and seventh grades, and follow them through their first year of college. The program provides academic support, mentoring and guidance to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, first-generation college students and underserved populations reach a higher education institution that meets their needs. 

“This will be a true partnership between KU and Kansas City Kansas Public Schools,” said Ngondi Kamatuka, director of KU’s Center for Educational Opportunity Programs and grant principal investigator. “When you talk about access to educational success, access isn’t enough if you don’t also have support. We’ll provide that support to within the schools’ efforts strategic plans and engage our future teachers here in the School of Education as mentors, big brothers and big sisters, and educators.

“I am so proud of Dr. Kamatuka and his team,” said Achievement & Assessment Institute Director Neal Kingston.

Investigators received 100 points, a perfect grant review score, on what is KU’s largest ever GEAR UP grant.

The KU-KCK-Diploma+GEAR UP program has three proposed objectives in its work to help students reach and complete higher education:

  • Ensuring at least 65 percent of the cohort will have increased academic performance and preparation for secondary education by completing rigorous courses on schedule
  • At least 65 percent of students will graduate from high school, enroll in postsecondary institutions that meet their needs and be placed into college-level math and English classes without the need for remediation
  • At least 70 percent of parents of participating students will be actively engaged in activities associated with assisting students in their preparation for college.

Researchers will work with school personnel to implement an early warning system that identifies students at risk of falling behind. Teachers and partners will then assist the students with targeted interventions, including English and math learning stations, after-school, weekend and summer programs, all without waiting until the end of the school year to provide assistance. The partners will also provide Mastery Prep, an intensive program to prepare students for college-entrance exams such as the ACT and Pre-SAT. The interventions will specifically aim to prepare students for college with the skills and preparedness to reduce the need for remedial college courses, which have proven to be a critical barrier for low-income, first-generation and students of color.

KU-KCK-Diploma+GEAR UP will also provide professional development for teachers and financial literacy lessons for students and parents.

“It is clear these days that sometimes students are shut out of the academy because of a lack of financial knowledge,” Kamatuka said. “We’ll offer financial literacy support for students and families and help them learn about financial aid and other options, because financial aid only covers so much.”

KU personnel will work with departments and faculty across the university to host KCK students on visits involving the Edwards Campus, KU Medical Center and others. When the students graduate in 2023 and 2024, respectively, the partnership will continue to work with them to evaluate their first year of college and ensure the proper supports are in place to help them succeed and stay in school. The partners will also implement and support Paradigm Shift, KCK schools’ initiative to identify barriers to student success and family and community engagement and determine how research-backed, innovative initiatives can address them.

“That’s where KU’s expertise and our partnership needs to come to bear, in identifying and addressing those challenges,” Kamatuka said. “We can’t rely on what we were doing three or five years ago. Things change, and we need to reach students where they are now.”


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