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PROGRAM TO GRANT SCHOLARSHIPS; SAN FERNANDO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO BENEFIT.

Byline: David R. Baker Daily News Staff Writer

San Fernando High School freshmen could get $6,000 college scholarships for maintaining at least a 2.5 grade point average and meeting other requirements under a program set to start this summer.

The project will be unveiled Friday at an education summit hosted by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, a public-private partnership dedicated to improving the local economy. The summit will introduce local business leaders to Project GRAD Los Angeles and several other education reform programs.

Alliance President Bill Allen said the program is designed to spur discussion in the business community about ways to improve local schools, with the alliance hoping to draft its own reform plan in the future. Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) aims to convince students from lower-income families that college is a realistic possibility.

Nick Vasquez, principal of San Fernando's Morningside Elementary School, said many children don't expect to attend college and don't push themselves in earlier grades as a result.

``We need to hold that carrot, that scholarship, in front of them so they all see that goal at the end,'' said Vasquez, who doubles as the secretary of Project GRAD's executive board. ``Imagine all these kids getting scholarships, going to college and coming back to make this a really vibrant place.''

Project GRAD is expected to cost $40 million in its first four years. The group has already received $5 million from the Ford Foundation and $1 million from a foundation formed by Michael Eisner, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co.

To receive the scholarships, San Fernando students will have to meet several requirements beyond the minimum GPA. They must complete high school in four years and take several college preparatory classes. They also will have to participate in at least two ``bridging institutes,'' university-level classes taught during the summer that include college counseling. Such programs do not currently exist in the Valley, Mabey said, but she is discussing them with several local schools.

Organizers expect that 389 students in the graduating class of 2003 - the first eligible under the program - will qualify for scholarships, $6,000 each spread over four years of college. Of those, 187 are expected to actually accept the money, while the rest may qualify for other scholarships or choose not to go to college, said Project GRAD executive director Cheryl Mabey.

Although organizers eventually hope to take Project GRAD citywide, it will start in the San Fernando cluster of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Twelve of the cluster's schools have already signed on to the program, and two more are scheduled to vote this week on participating, Mabey said.

Launching Project GRAD in just one corner of the sprawling school district will be costly and complex. More than just a scholarship program, the effort includes reading and math programs for elementary and middle school students and tries to coordinate instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade.

``We're talking about a whole new culture in these schools,'' Mabey said.

Although new to Los Angeles, the program has a track record elsewhere. It began in Houston, pieced together by the former board chairman of an oil company.

Tenneco Inc. had been funding college scholarships for students at a Houston high school since 1989, said retired chairman Jim Ketelsen. But to his dismay, few students met the academic requirements for the money.

``We were not reaching the bottom half of the class that was dropping out,'' he said. ``Ninth grade was too late.''

So he started searching for education reform programs concentrating on elementary school students. He settled on the ``Success for All'' reading program and ``Move it Math.''

The results, he said, were striking. One family of schools that implemented the changes inecreased the number of students passing a statewide math test to 78 percent, compared with 44 percent before. And 81 percent of students at the same schools received passing grades on the state's reading test, up from 63 percent before Project GRAD.

Most students receiving the GRAD scholarships have gone on to four-year colleges and universities, including Rice, Princeton and the University of Virginia.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 8, 1999
Words:691
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