July 9, 2008

Grant Gives OU Center Funds to Guide Middle-School Students

By James S. Tyree, The Oklahoman

Jul. 9--NORMAN -- The K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma will use a federal grant of nearly $2.8 million to help thousands of disadvantaged middle-school students prepare for college.

The OU center is one of only 24 entities nationwide -- out of 283 applicants -- to receive a GEAR UP grant. The acronym stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, and the 24 grants totaled more than $41.5 million.

The grant is renewable for up to five years, which could bring the K20 total amount to nearly $16.8 million.

Scott Wilson, associate director of innovative technology partnerships at K20, said funding for the center will begin Tuesday and help students at 36 schools that have yet to be determined.

The program is designed to work with seventh-graders at participating schools and stays with them through middle and high school and into college.

K20 has a four-phase system of upgrading training for educators and curriculum for students, with a focus on use of technology and teaching practices. Wilson said the GEAR UP grant will help fund all four phases of the system for the upcoming school year and up to four more years.

"We start with school leaders in phase one to build capacity within the school to support change," Wilson said. "Phase two looks at staff for using technology as a catalyst.

"Phase three works with teachers in specific content areas, using real-world teaching strategies to help them answer the old question from students, 'Why are we doing this?'" he continued, "and fourth is working directly with students to engage them in learning."

Schools from throughout Oklahoma will participate, Wilson said. Poverty rates and population density will be factors in their selection.

Private businesses, civic organizations, and municipal and state agencies add financial support along with educational opportunities. K20 spokeswoman Lori Johnson said "this grant works so that collaboration is almost mandatory."

Yet, the GEAR UP grant was a critical funding source, and Wilson said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, was instrumental in urging Congress to fund the program in this tough economic year.

"Rep. Cole is a huge GEAR UP supporter," he said. "Funding is based on the budget, so as long as GEAR UP is reauthorized by Congress, then we get year two and then year three and so forth."

For more information on the K20 center and its programs, go to http://k20center.ou.edu.


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