Cleveland Foundation Grant Ensures Promising Future for Rising Scholars

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More Geauga County Middle Schoolers Gain Access to Intervention Program

By Estelle R. Brown

Silver spoon or plastic fork? Every child is born with certain economic advantages and disadvantages that shape their futures. 

The fledgling Rising Scholars program was initiated last year to level the playing field for at-risk Geauga County students who face uncertain outcomes after high school graduation. Thanks to a $14,079 grant from the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, this intervention program administered by Kent State University Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center will expand opportunities for even more local students throughout the 2020 calendar year.

Generational poverty, lack of role models and insufficient academic preparation for success in college or at work are common risk factors among students at Kent State regional campuses, where 81 percent receive financial aid and most require remediation to bring their academic skills up to college-level standards. In order to better equip future first-generation college students in Geauga County, the Rising Scholars program was established to identify at-risk sixth graders and to support them as Rising Scholars while progressing from middle school through high school and on to college.

In its first year, the program was facilitated by two KSU-Geauga student mentors — Abby Clarke and Carmen Robinson — who provided one-on-one guidance for eight seventh-graders, two each from four local school districts. Grant support from the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation supported students from Berkshire and Cardinal districts in Geauga County while KSU-Geauga funded the mentorship of students from Twinsburg and Nordonia in Summit County, with funding support supplied by the Kent State Foundation, Middlefield Bank and individual donations ($6,349 was raised for Rising Scholars on Giving Tuesday). 

With the start of fall term 2020, an additional KSU-Geauga student mentor will be hired to support two additional students from Kenston Local Schools and two from Chagrin Falls Park (both in Geauga County). The addition of these four to the Rising Scholars roster will be funded by the new grant award.

“I am so thankful for the Cleveland Foundation and their faith in our program and the contributions we’re making in the Geauga County community,” says Robin Dever, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of the Middle Childhood Education Program.

“I am very excited to continue to work with the school districts as we build the program. It’s been a wonderful experience to watch the students form bonds with their mentors as they grow academically, socially and emotionally.”

The Kent State-Geauga Rising Scholars Program can become a model for increasing the number of rural, low-income students who pursue higher education and graduate from college. From seventh grade through senior year, a KSU student mentor will meet with the Rising Scholars every month to work on skills to ensure their success in college, the workforce, or military options after high school graduation. Also, Rising Scholars participate in a summer workshop focusing on academic skills, and attend biannual workshops emphasizing the connection between education and local career paths. Recently, the Rising Scholars cohort toured the Twinsburg Fitness Center to explore future career options, including the qualifications, skills and academics needed to pursue different career pathways.

Beyond equipping students with hard skills related to time management, project completion and attention to detail, Dr. Dever explains that mentors focus on helping these middle-schoolers to think beyond the present and to contemplate higher aspirations for the future. In order for them to pursue rewarding careers after high school, now is the time to identify their personal strengths, attach those strengths to future goals, and expand their visions for successful livelihoods. 

“They have strengths now they can turn into a future success,” says Dr. Dever. “We want them to be aware of all their options when the time comes.”

As the Rising Scholars program builds each year, it will serve 20 students next year and will eventually reach its full capacity with 72 students (12 students per grade ranging from seventh grade through twelfth grade). The expanding program will require a full-time program director who will dedicate half of their time to managing Rising Scholars and the other half to career services. With a new director eventually taking over the role, Dr. Dever will still serve in an advisory capacity and work closely with the new director during the transition period. 

She says, “I’m deeply invested in this program and I hope to guide the developmental appropriateness of activities as the program grows.”

Long-term investments are being made to level the playing field for a growing number of young students with promising futures. It takes $1,875 to support one Rising Scholar for one year. Anyone interested in contributing to the Rising Scholars fund may do so by contacting Associate Director of Advancement Molly Smith at msmit68@kent.edu

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