Wichita State University has been awarded funding for a GEAR UP grant that will provide early intervention services and scholarships for foster care children in Kansas.
The U.S. Department of Education grant is for $2.5 million a year for five years, totaling $12.5 million. That grant will be matched equally through in-kind support, scholarships and operating funds, making the total value of the grant worth $25 million — one of the largest ever received at Wichita State. The GEAR UP project, formally called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is already under way and will be implemented over the course of the year.
The grant will be used to support the estimated 2,500 children in the foster care system in Kansas, according to Ron Kopita, vice president for student affairs. "Beginning at the elementary school level, this new initiative is designed to support and expand the existing efforts in Kansas to enhance student achievement with a goal of increasing the number of foster care students who graduate from Kansas high schools and strengthen the foundation for the pursuit of a college education," says Kopita.
Foster care children face a number of obstacles pursuing an education, according to Deltha Colvin, assistant vice president for student affairs who wrote the grant proposal and will supervise its implementation. "Foster care kids typically fall through the cracks after they reach the age of 18 when they are no longer in the system, and many of them don't even graduate from high school," says Colvin. "It's unlikely in the foster care system for a child to be with a foster care family from birth to college. There's no family consistency and there's no school consistency.
"This is really designed to create a statewide partnership network to monitor and follow and support these kids from a very early age to offset some of the natural things that happen as a result of being in the foster care system. We want to provide early intervention activities, resources and materials to not only help the student, but to help the care providers understand the needs of the students as they move from place to place."
As the coordinating institution, Wichita State will establish satellite offices throughout Kansas. The heaviest concentration will be in the metropolitan areas where there is a higher concentration of foster care kids. "We're going to have a public awareness campaign and hire about 40 people to serve in administrative roles as mentors and teachers all over the state," Colvin says.
The project will provide tutoring services to eligible students. Professional workshops and in-service training will be available for teachers and providers to better help them understand and work with foster care kids. There also will be testing, advising and counseling services. In addition, materials will be targeted specifically for guardians and teachers.
"The GEAR UP project can provide consistency and assistance to foster care students in their educational development," says Colvin.
Kopita says the strong support of Gov. Bill Graves helped make the grant a reality. According to Kopita, Kansas Kids @ GEAR UP is truly a collaborative partnership that includes all of the Board of Regents institutions, many community colleges throughout the state, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the Kansas Department of Education, selected school districts, and all related care provider agencies.