The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded more than $28 million in funding to Winston-Salem State University. It's the largest grant in the school's history.

The money will be used to improve college access and preparation for thousands of local middle and high school students in economically disadvantaged households.

It's called the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP grant.

The money will be used to create programs in high-poverty schools beginning in the 6th grade. The university will distribute funds to three districts: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Guilford County Schools and Rutherford County Schools.

Several community partners and organizations will also play a role.

"It's really fundamentally a village approach to serving our children," says Erin Lynch, associate provost of scholarship, research and innovation at Winston-Salem State University. 

The program will provide things like tutoring, job shadowing, academic counseling and financial literacy instruction. Families can also benefit from the services.

Nicolette Grant, the chief academic officer for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, says it's an opportunity to inspire younger students and improve outcomes.

“We are hoping not only does this increase our graduation rate for our students, but that it also increases the actual college matriculation rate of students going into college as well as their success in their first year of college,” says Grant.

The program will serve more than 15,000 students across the three districts. Some of the initiatives are expected to begin in the spring.

“The economic mobility that comes with attaining a bachelor's degree or associate's degree, employment, job opportunities, it will have a trickle-down effect that we may not be able to measure for years to come,” says Lynch.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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