The University of Maine at Farmington will head up a $20 million, seven year program intended to help at-risk students across the state prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education.

The purpose of the grant is to work with students from low-income families starting in seventh grade to raise their academic performance, increase the graduation rate at their high school and help them succeed in college.

“We’ll be able to start working with these students in seventh grade and support them and their families to create a college-going culture,” said Katherine Yardley, UMF associate provost, dean of the College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation and grant program manager.

UMF was recently awarded the grant by the U.S. Department of Education and will be working with 19 partner agencies and to serve up to 7,600 students annually from 63 high-poverty, rural schools in 26 districts.

Central Maine school districts to partner with the statewide grant include Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield, Winthrop Public Schools, Mount Abram in Salem, Carrabec in North Anson, Mount View in Thorndike, Readfield, Rangeley, Mt. Blue in Farmington, Upper Kennebec Valley in Bingham and Spruce Mountain in Jay.

Maine was one of 10 states to get the grant, and UMF will serve as the statewide grant’s fiscal agent, with Syntiro, a non-profit based in Readfield, handling the day to day administration of the project.

“This GEAR UP grant is a wonderful asset for Maine and Maine students,” said UMF president Kathryn A. Foster in a press release. “Its implementation will help inspire all Maine students to strive beyond high school and realize their potential.”

Before GEAR UP, there was smaller scale partnership grant that worked with students in Dixfield, Jay and Rumford and achieved program goals.

Syntiro president Kathryn F. Markovchick said in a press release that they “hope to build upon the successes of that experience and work to ensure that together, with UMF, school and non-school partners, we create outstanding opportunities for Maine’s students.”

One difference is that this time the program officials will be able to follow students from seventh grade through their first year of college and collect data to see what practices are most effective in meeting the goals.

“As we’re trying to use different cutting edge strategies, you want to make sure you know what is most effective in creating a college going climate and raising student achievement,” said Yardley.

After the study the different intervention methods, she said they can then share those findings with other schools.

In addition it will work working directly with students, the program will work with their families.

“So one aspect would be supporting families so they have an understanding and feel comfortable understanding financial aid and visiting schools,” she said.

When choosing the schools to work with, Yardley said they looked at factors like the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, the high school graduation rates and the number of students going on to college.

“This program is exciting because it then works on multiple levels to look at what the resources are and what can then strengthen academics,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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