Community Grant Targets Graduation Success

By Kristi Palmer
Lawrenceville-GA.patch.com, July 9, 2012

The Primerica Foundation is supporting Gwinnett students’ graduation efforts through a $25,000 donation to the Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation Fund, Inc. The grant will be used to assist with the expansion of a credit recovery program for over-aged 8th grade students. The STEP Academy for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Targeted Education Program, launched as a pilot program last school year at one of the district’s middle schools, supports students who are working to get back on track academically.

“There are a number of factors that contribute to students falling in the over-age category. This is a serious issue and data confirms that intervening early is crucial,” explains Mary Elizabeth Davis, Gwinnett’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. “The financial support from a prominent partner such as Primerica is essential to the growth of programs like this. Our community recognizes that the price of failing to intervene is exponentially higher to the student and to the community.”

Studies show that as few as 13% of students who enter 9th grade one or more years above average age successfully advance through the required high school credits to graduate within four years. The STEP Academy pilot program, established by a $600,000 federal Race to the Top grant, has surpassed all initial benchmarks with students regaining on average two or more semesters of academic credit. In its first year, Gwinnett had a 94% success rate. Out of 62 8th grade participants, 58 will start high school this coming August as 10th graders, having caught up with their class.

In addition to helping students graduate on time, the program sets a career pathway for them as GCPS has partnered with Gwinnett Technical College and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. This partnership introduces participating students to dual enrollment opportunities and certificate programs as the district’s goal is that students will find an area of interest to study after graduating from high school on time.

Thanks to the Primerica grant, GCPS will expand the program to a second middle school at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.

The GCPS Foundation is a non-profit 501(c) (3) charitable organization dedicated to providing financial resources to enrich and extend education in Gwinnett County Public Schools. To learn more about this program and the work of the GCPS Foundation, contact Kelly Herndon, the Foundation’s executive director, at 678-301-6077, or visit www.gcps-foundation.org.