Yanneidis Mendoza, 10, works on her homework in the cafeteria at Vikan Middle School as her parents attend Padres Positivos classes in the library. The
Yanneidis Mendoza, 10, works on her homework in the cafeteria at Vikan Middle School as her parents attend Padres Positivos classes in the library. The school provides child care services during the classes, so the parents can concentrate on reaping the full benefits of the parenting classes. Seth A. McConnell, Your Hub (Seth A. McConnell)

A seven-year federal grant aims to get more than 800 northwest Denver kids now in sixth grade and seventh grade into college and help them once they get there.

The $4.8 million U.S. Department of Education grant will be used to pay for college advisers or counselors, college visits and some tutoring once the students enroll in college.

"We've really built a culture of high expectations. Now, with this grant, we'll have an opportunity to have an adult partner to continue and advance that work," said Skinner Middle School principal Michelle Koyama.

Skinner is one of eight schools — middle, K-8 and high schools — participating in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, known as GEAR UP.

Skinner had a grant-funded college adviser, but the funding ran out, Koyama said.

"We will be able to bring that resource back," Koyama said. "We're really excited to have this opportunity."

Koyama, who runs a smaller program at Skinner that helps students visit colleges, said there will be tremendous value in having more students participate.

"It gives students the opportunity to get hands-on experience," Koyama said. "They meet with professors and are presented with short, small projects so students can see the rigor and demand."

Antwan Wilson, assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness at Denver Public Schools, said having three K-8 schools participate ensures — as part of the larger district strategy — that college awareness trickles down into younger minds.

"As we put these structures in place, elementary students will also benefit because parents and students will begin to recognize the importance of a college education," Wilson said.

Wilson said older students who aren't part of the targeted cohort will benefit from some of the structured systems implemented at the schools.

According to abstracts posted by the U.S. Department of Education, the project's goals include increasing graduation rates to 68 percent by 2019, from a current DPS average of 51.8 percent.

The abstract also notes that the counselor-to-student ratio in the participating schools will be about one counselor per 203 students — higher than the one per 250 recommended by the American School Counseling Association.