Des Moines program that helps keep at-risk kids on track may be lost
For years, when Des Moines Hoover High School senior Kahdeija Love has needed help in and out of the classroom, advisers with the GEAR UP program have provided it.
But the program — and as many as 13 employees who try to look out for some at-risk students — might not be around after this year because the school district’s application for $1.5 million a year in federal grant money was denied.
When Love was failing math last year, advisers with GEAR UP set up a tutor for her and gave her the additional attention she needed to pass the class. This year, when Love needed support at home after her mother’s death, they were there, too.
They attended her mother’s funeral, came by Love’s house, brought food to the family and started a collection to help Love pay for college.
“There’s a lot of programs that only do so much — they don’t go beyond,” said Love, 17. “GEAR UP advisers do.”
The program’s name stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. It is a federally funded program that Des Moines has used for certain students in the class of 2012 since they were in seventh grade at at-risk middle schools. The goal is to get all students involved in some type of post-secondary education.
Students and advisers say it’s a success. Des Moines has received almost $1.2 million annually since 2006 to run the program, but this is the final year of the grant, and the district renewal application to start with a new group of middle-schoolers in the fall was not accepted.
There were 396 applications nationwide, and 66 were selected for funding. “The competition was really, really high,” said Nancy Wright, coordinator of the program.
The plan is to tweak Des Moines’ application, Wright said, and resubmit it this spring if another competition is held.
If the district does not receive a new grant, it will result in “a huge reduction in staff,” Wright said. The grant pays for Wright, an administrative assistant and 11 advisers housed at the high schools. There is discussion about incorporating some GEAR UP services into the district’s career and college readiness plan.