New Program Pairs Struggling Middle Schoolers with Kent State Student Mentors

At-Risk Students Elevated to Rising Scholars for Brighter Futures

Extra help is here for struggling students who usually slip through the cracks and face uncertain futures after their elementary years. Rural students, in particular, face generational poverty, lack of role models, and insufficient academic preparation for success in college or at work. These patterns are evident at the Kent State regional campuses where 81 percent of students receive financial aid, and most require remediation to bring their academic skills up to college-level standards. A new program is now in place to identify at-risk students by sixth grade and to support them as Rising Scholars as they progress from middle school to high school and on to college.

In support of the new program, the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation has invested in the future by awarding a $15,000 grant to The Kent State University Geauga and Regional Academic Center Rising Scholars Program to work with students in Geauga County. The program is designed to increase the number of students in Berkshire and Cardinal Schools who continue their education beyond high school, are ready for college and are prepared to enter the workforce with skills that will enhance the economic growth of the region.

“I feel that the Rising Scholars program will provide a great resource for students in the community,” says Dr. Robin Dever, Middle Childhood Education professor and program coordinator at Kent State Geauga. “It is our intent that the students who complete the program will be successful in whatever path they choose post-graduation. I am honored that the Cleveland Foundation shares the same enthusiasm for the program and is helping us achieve this goal. For this, I am very thankful!”

The Rising Scholars Program exists to support the success of a select group of students who have promising academic ability but are not performing to their full potential. These Rising Scholars will be identified by the school district at the end of sixth grade to improve high school graduation rates, enhance college readiness and improve college/postsecondary attendance in Geauga and Summit counties, where the need is great to prepare a technically skilled, professionally trained workforce that will promote local economic growth.

How the Program Works
The Kent State Geauga Rising Scholars Program can become a model for increasing the number of rural, low-income students who pursue higher education and graduate from college. The plan is to work with four school districts: Berkshire Local Schools, Cardinal Local Schools, Twinsburg City Schools, and Nordonia Hills City Schools. 

In the program’s first year, two students will be chosen from each district at the end of their sixth-grade year as potential first-generation college students, for a total of eight Rising Scholars. Each following year, an additional eight students will be added to the program.  

Dr. Dever explains, “At its fullest capacity, we will have 48 students in the program (8 per grade x 6 grades). We are beginning the program with two KSU students who will serve as mentors. One will be based in Geauga County, working with the Berkshire and Cardinal districts while the other is based in Twinsburg, working with the Twinsburg and Nordonia Hills schools.  As the program grows, our intent is to add more mentors as needed.”

For the remainder of their years before high school graduation, a Kent State Geauga student mentor will meet with the Rising Scholars every month to work on skills to ensure their success either in college, the workforce, or military options after graduation. Also, Rising Scholars will participate in a summer workshop focusing on academic skills and will attend biannual workshops emphasizing the connection between education and local career paths.

Students will be supervised and guided through these experiences over a six-year period until they enroll in postsecondary education. Any college-bound Rising Scholar may apply for a sponsored scholarship covering the cost of tuition at Kent State Geauga. To be eligible, Rising Scholars must have participated in the entire program, have maintained a minimum 2.5 GPA, and have agreed to serve as a university student mentor for new scholars entering the program. Scholarship recipients are then expected to commit to working in northeast Ohio for a specified amount of time after college graduation.

How to Get Involved
There are many opportunities for community members and businesses to contribute to the success of Rising Scholars as this program takes shape. Beyond the Geauga County-focused gift from the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, additional funding is being sought to help support the program in Summit County, to fund programming and administrative costs, and to sponsor scholarships to cover tuition costs at Kent State Geauga for Rising Scholars and their student mentors. 

Also, an advisory board is being organized to guide the program and to serve as business contacts in the community. “Our hope is that this board can help steer the mentoring to best match the current needs of business in the community as well as provide information on the trends and career options high school graduates can expect when they enter into the workforce,“ Dr. Dever says. 

To help support the Kent State University Geauga and Regional Academic Center Rising Scholars Program, contact Robin Dever at to inquire further.

POSTED: Monday, March 11, 2019 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Monday, March 11, 2019 - 10:35am
Estelle R. Brown