As part of a nationwide push to smooth the transition and get more students into college, the U.S. Department of Education has announced 24 grants totaling more than $41 million.

The grants fall under the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) and aim to help more than 69,000 disadvantaged middle-school students receive assistance to prepare for and pursue college educations.

"The GEAR UP program partners with the community to reach students early through mentoring, tutoring, financial aid and other supporters," Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a statement to media. "This program aims to assure disadvantaged students that college is within their reach, and then provides them with all the help they need to get there."

The money is being awarded in two ways, including $20.77 million in state grants for seven states, and then $20.8 million awarded in 17 partnership grants for several other districts and states.

In Utah, the Ogden School District will receive a chunk of $699,000 in a partnership grant with Weber State University, which will be used to start up a motivational and preparatory program for all seventh-graders in the district. The money allotted for each of them will follow them through high school graduation and give them a start in college.

"These are a lucky group of kids," said Kate Bideaux, Ogden School District's grant facilitator. "They'll get so much extra out of school because of this grant."

For each seventh-grader, the federal government is allocating $800. Bideaux said the money will be used in three ways, including enhancing math instruction to ensure each student passes Algebra I by ninth grade, employ an intense reading program and provide tutors and mentors for additional motivation for students. The efforts are intended to not only prepare the students for school but help increase their desire to attend college.

In partnership with WSU, the Ogden School District will also tap into various community programs to keep kids busy and promote involvement, in addition to increasing student success levels.

"We've found there is a direct correlation between the levels of math completed and success rates and test scores," Bideaux said. "We'd just like to give them everything they need to succeed and go to college."

Higher-level course work, summer activities and academic programming, mentoring, counseling and help with the college application process are among the planned services for students.

"The grant changes through the years as the kids' needs change," Bideaux said.

Approximately 280 GEAR UP applications were received by the U.S. Dept. of Education this year, but only 24 could be funded. In addition to these new grants, GEAR UP is funding 166 continuation projects that have been started in the past five years, serving more than 738,000 students nationwide.

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