MANSFIELD -- Mansfield City Schools is about to receive almost $2 million to bolster its college prep efforts.
The district announced earlier this week it is among six Ohio school districts slated for GEAR UP funding from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
The goal of the program is to ensure students can articulate their career goals with a specific pathway and greater understanding of what it takes to get there.
MCS will receive an estimated $1.89 million in federal grant funds over the next seven years. The district will use these funds to provide additional staff and services for students in grades 7 through 12.
Nikia Fletcher, director of college and career readiness, believes the opportunity will change the climate at Mansfield Senior High School.
"We don’t necessarily have a college-going atmosphere in this building," Fletcher said. “This opportunity is amazing for our students and we are truly grateful to the U.S. Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Higher Education for including us in this important initiative."
Mansfield City applied for GEAR UP funding in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Higher Education and five other school districts, all of which will receive federal funding.
"The GEAR UP funding process is extremely competitive," said Carlos Bing, GEAR UP director for the Ohio Department of Higher Education. "During this competition, approximately 12 states applied for funding. Ohio was one of four states selected to receive an award."
Advisors will help students prepare for, enroll in and find resources to pay for post secondary education.
Fletcher said the district is in need of people to walk students through their next steps.
"There really aren't a lot of hands free enough to do the work," she said. "We'll have two advisors in our building whose specific responsibilities are to help students understand what it means to go to college.
“We’re looking for people with a connection to Mansfield City Schools, a heart for Mansfield City Schools,” she added.
Bing said having advisors work well with school staff and the community is crucial to the program's success.
"The main key to all of this is collaboration," he explained. "GEAR UP staff must work collaboratively with the district staff. GEAR UP staff must build the trust of the students and parents they serve."
MCS will also partner with North Central State College to expand services to students grades 7 through 12 including after-school and summer programming. Other plans include partnering with local colleges and universities to increase families' knowledge of financial aid resources, including FAFSA, and to provide scholarships to students.
The district may also use the funds to increase CCP course offers and improve its math curriculum, Fletcher said.
CollegeNow of Greater Cleveland will act as the fiscal agent for the grant. The organization has helped administer GEAR UP funding with partner districts for two decades.
"We'll have access to the things that we would have never thought about -- best practices, professional development from an organization who's been doing this for years," Fletcher said.
While the grant only lasts seven years, Fletcher hopes the district will continue to fund similar initiatives after it expires.
“You get this grant for seven years and then you decide if and how you're going to sustain it in your district," she said.