4 Hi-Line schools get aid to help college-bound students


Additional funding has been announced to continue and expand a program to help low-income students, including many on the Hi-Line, prepare for life after high school.

The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs project has been working with Montana school districts since 1998 to help students know what they need to know and do what they need to do to be ready to pursue post-secondary education. The program just announced a new seven-year $28 million grant to continue its services.

"This is great news for K-12 and post-secondary education in Montana, " Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education said in the press release announcing the grant. "The students of today are the future workers and leaders of the State. This is Montana's third GEAR UP grant, and it reflects our commitment to ensuring access to post-secondary education and to strong collaboration between K-12 and higher education. "

Eighteen school districts across the state will split the program's $4 million-a-year, particularly those near Montana's Indian reservations. The state's GEAR UP director, Sandy Merdinger said about two-thirds of the students served by the program are Native American.

Participants along the Hi-Line include school districts in Box Elder, Rocky Boy, Hays-Lodge Pole and Harlem.

On Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, where Arlene Bigby is the district's GEAR UP coordinator, the programs has been helping students, starting in middle school, for years.

"GEAR UP is a really good program in not only getting kids ready for college, " Bigby said, "but teaching them the possibilities of college, what college can do for them. "

Shari Ruff, the GEAR UP liaison for Box Elder schools, said the program has been great so far, offering help with tutoring, partnerships with Stone Child College and cultural education or parental involvement initiatives.

She said it's been popular with the students as well, particularly the college summer camp, where high school students spend part of the summer staying on a college campus and learning about that experience. About 20 students a year from Box Elder alone attend the camp, held on campuses from Montana State University-Northern to University of Montana-Western in Dillon.

The new grant will bring new opportunities that are still developing.

"This new grant's going to look a little different, " Ruff said. "We'll find out in November what it will mean to our school, but we're really excited that it got funded in Montana and we look forward to working with GEAR UP again. "

Merdinger said that the program, in the past, has focused on getting students ready to go to college and how to secure financial aid. Having that process down, the program will focus now on helping the students do their best once they get to college.


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