Project GRAD Houston

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Project GRAD Houston (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) is a non-profit 501(c)3 education reform model at work in five feeder patterns (Davis, Sam Houston, Reagan, Wheatley and Yates) within Houston Independent School District (HISD), serving 64 schools and over 44,000 economically disadvantaged children – 22.98% of the school district's total school population and approximately 24% of its total at-risk population. Over 90% of Project GRAD students are low-income and 91% are minority.

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Project GRAD Houston has a proven track record nationwide in increasing high school graduation and college attendance rates for low-income students.[1] The Project GRAD model has grown from a scholarship program which began in partnership with Houston Independent School District's Jefferson Davis High School in 1989.

With the belief that every student, regardless of background, not only deserves to but should graduate from high school and have access to college, then Tenneco Chairman and CEO Jim Ketelsen,[2] along with his wife Kathryn, spearheaded a search for a solution to the challenges facing Houston’s inner city schools. Working in tandem with school and community leaders, the Project GRAD model was developed as a system of curricular, methodological, and student and family support programs that helps build academic skills, improves student behavior, addresses family needs, and sets children on the road to college.


The mission of Project GRAD is to support a quality public education for students in economically disadvantaged communities, so that high school and college graduation rates increase.[citation needed]


Project GRAD goals are to see at least 80% of entering ninth graders graduate from high school, at least 50% of those graduates attend college with our[who?] scholarship and at least 60% of enrollees graduate from college.

Program components[edit]

Project GRAD's core model focuses on ensuring:

  • college readiness through support of strong academic preparation PK through 12
  • college access through additional resources for students and families that address the social, experiential, and economic needs, including a four-year, $4,000 college scholarship[3][4]
  • college access through support systems that network mentors and peer leaders to college freshman.

Additionally, GRAD offers a fine arts program in the Jefferson Davis feeder pattern.[5]

Walk for success[edit]

Project GRAD's flagship event, the Walk For Success, utilizes thousands of volunteers on a Saturday morning each fall to conduct a door-to-door campaign visiting the homes of every new ninth grade student's family in GRAD-partnering high schools. Each 9th grade student and their parent are asked to sign a commitment to achieving the requirements for the GRAD scholarship offer. These requirements are aligned with important educational targets – graduating high school in four years with at least a 2.5 GPA, completing the Texas Recommended Plan for high school graduation, attending two university-based College Institutes. This commitment opens the door for future conversations[clarification needed] between the student and their parents, their teachers, and their counselors. Every stakeholder has higher expectations for student achievement because of this resource.[who?]

College week[edit]

College Week generally takes place in January after winter-break and was developed to promote college going habits for students. Campus based faculty and students participate by incorporating various college awareness activities designed to make college-going conversations a part of their everyday vernacular in the classroom. Students and parents receive information about college awareness and access through a series of events designed to instill the idea that college is available to every student. Each school’s faculty and staff members participate by promoting their own college going experiences through door decorating contests, wearing their college colors, and by incorporating college awareness discussions throughout the campus. The highlight of College Week is “College Conversations” at each campus. Through “College Conversations,” college students and/or college graduates who have received the GRAD college scholarship return to their own high schools to share their college going experiences with current high school students and high school faculty. When students hear first-hand how their peers have overcome the challenges of getting to and what it take to succeed in college, they are inspired to prepare themselves for higher education.[citation needed]

Parent convention[edit]

Typically held during spring break, the Parent Convention offers parents of elementary, middle and high school students in Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) GRAD-affiliated schools in the Davis, Sam Houston, Reagan, Wheatley and Yates High School feeder patterns an opportunity to receive information to help their children in college readiness, college access, and college success. Sessions in both English and Spanish are offered. In addition, community and college/university partners are also on-hand to share information on saving and planning for college.

Scholarship award ceremony[edit]

Annually, the Project GRAD Houston Scholarship Award Ceremony formally honors seniors from Davis, Reagan, Wheatley, and Yates High Schools, along with the Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center, who have completed the requirements and earned the GRAD Scholarship. With parents, teachers, principals, district administrators, and peers in attendance, each scholar receives a medallion, a symbol of their individual accomplishment, presented to them buy a panel of special guests. Over 690 seniors qualified for the Project GRAD Scholarship in 2011.

College institutes[edit]

The $4,000 Project GRAD scholarship requires students to have completed two College Institutes. College Institutes are extended colLege experiences that immerse high school students into the real world of college and careers. Held during the summer months, the College Institute schedules are available June, July, and August with morning and afternoon half and whole day classes. The goals of these Institutes are to familiarize students with a collegiate environment, explore potential career options, strengthen their academic and leadership skills, and help them earn the Project GRAD Scholarship. Students can choose to spend part of their summer attending an Institute at: The University of Houston, the University of Houston–Downtown, Rice University, the University of Texas Health Science Center, the University of St. Thomas, or Houston Community College. Each Institute has a different academic and career focus. Students can write a business plan and “play” the stock market, design robots, prepare for next year’s advanced mathematics course, observe a surgery, work in a forensic lab, explore nano-chemistry, create a web site, or extract DNA.[6]

Project GRAD fine arts[edit]

The 2009–2010 school year marked the eleventh year of the Project GRAD Fine Arts Program serving over 3,700 students enrolled in the five elementary schools and one middle school of the Jefferson Davis High School feeder pattern in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). Our high quality, comprehensive fine arts programming continues to be a beacon of light for these students – of which 99% are minority and 96% of whom come from economically disadvantaged households. In 2008–2009, an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the U.S. Department of Education enhanced program offerings in instrumental music, choir and visual arts by supporting the inclusion of keyboarding, drama and opera. Comprehensive and integrated instruction is aligned with national and state-mandated standards. Arts specialist teachers provide students with weekly instruction in both art and music. Classroom teachers receive assistance to embed the arts in their teaching. Community artists visit the schools, and the students move into their community as artists, performing and displaying art. These elements work together to produce well-rounded students who are the fine arts performers and audiences of our future.


Project GRAD has a proven track record nationwide in increasing high school graduation,[7] college attendance, and college graduation rates for low-income students. Nationally, Project GRAD serves more than 149,000 economically disadvantaged youth in 22 communities across the nation and in the State of Pennsylvania.


  1. ^ Stamps, Bill (2011-05-23). "Nonprofit Takes Aim at Graduation Rate". KUHF: Houston Public Radio. Retrieved 2011-10-08. 
  2. ^ Hobby, Bill (October 2, 1995). "Houston Addresses Dropouts". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Project GRAD Houston Scholarship Program, Project GRAD Houston, 2012 
  4. ^ "HISD Connect – Project GRAD Celebrates 20 Years of Helping Students Live College Dreams". Houston Independent School District (HISD). 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2011-10-08. 
  5. ^ "Fine Arts Program". Project GRAD Houston. 
  6. ^ "Project GRAD". University of Texas, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Retrieved 2011-10-08. 

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