Organizations: Project GRAD Atlanta
If they have not dropped out before reaching 12th grade, low-income students from underserved communities typically show achievement levels that lag four years behind their more affluent peers.
To close this gap, Project GRAD Atlanta collaborates with about 30 public schools in grades K-12, along with post-secondary institutions, to guide students to their caps and gowns, not only in high school but also through college, with a system of extracurricular tutoring, mentoring and summer enrichment programs. GRAD, which stands for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, has extended $1.5 million in scholarship assistance and sent 1,750 Atlanta students – including some valedictorians – on to study at 152 colleges and universities in 34 states.
“One key to our success is that we demystify college,” says Executive Direc-tor Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva. “Most of our students would be the first in their families to attend college, and many have never traveled outside their communities, so college was not even on their radar – it’s perceived as this nebulous, expensive behemoth for elites. So we immerse them as early as possible in collegiate environments, where they can learn from real professors, eat in the cafeteria, and enjoy other activities middle-class kids take for granted.”
The organization is known for its follow-through.
“We don’t just hand students a check and send them on their way,” Spiva says. “Once they’re in college, our staff checks in with them to make sure they’re getting the help they need.”
GRAD began in Hous-ton in the 1980s and spread to other cities, including Atlanta, in 2000. “There’s a college match for every financial situation,” Spiva says. “If students will dream big, we’ll help make the tangible connections.”