Nabila Gomaa is afraid lawmakers in Washington aren't getting the message.
“One thing politicians need to know is they can't play with children's lives,” she said.
Playing politics with children's futures is exactly what she contends they would be doing if funding is reduced for the federal program Gear Up, as proposed in President Bush's initial budget.
Gear Up, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, has been offered since 1998 to colleges that work with schools in low-income areas to improve students' performance and encourage them to go to college.
Mrs. Gomaa is the program director at UT, which was awarded a $3.2 million grant to improve math and science instruction for seventh graders at Robinson and Jones junior high schools.
BGSU received a $4.7 million grant - the largest in the university's history - to prepare students at East Toledo Junior High School for college.
The proposed Bush budget would decrease Gear Up funding from $295 million in 2001 to $227 million next year. If approved, the funding cut would mean the programs could maintain activities for the class of seventh graders already involved as they move through 12th grade, but funding would not provide for the addition of new classes of seventh graders each year as planned.
“We are trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in the [current] implementation before we expand it further,” said Lindsey Kozberg, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman.
But Dr. Helen Cooks, a UT professor who helped secure the grant, said that's all wrong.
“You don't stop something if you want to see how it's going,” she said.
Even Toledo city council weighed in on the matter, passing a resolution last monthcq calling for legislators to fund Gear Up fully.
Teachers, administrators, and students report the area projects are going well.
UT initiated tutoring and mentoring sessions with the help of Owens-Illinois, Inc., employees. Teachers have taken classes from UT engineering professors, and more than 150 students have gone to Saturday institutes at the university that involve hands-on learning.
“It kind of helps me with teamwork,” said Devon Sturdivant, 12, an outgoing seventh grader at Robinson. “It was just kind of fun to be here ... and it got me away from the TV.”
Deborah Rivers, principal at Robinson, said, “We see this as a vehicle for our students to get the foundational courses they need so they can be successful.”
At East Toledo Junior High, the program has focused on restructuring grades into clusters of teachers, linking subjects, and encouraging collaboration.
“We're really happy with it,” said BGSU's Dr. Bill Armaline, co-director of the project.
Structural reforms could be implemented throughout the entire junior high school in East Toledo and possibly the high school. UT officials said they will increase the size of Gear Up classes if federal funding won't cover the cost of more instructors.
Still, Dr. Armaline dreads what not fully funding the program could mean.
“We see a lot of kids who are going to be left behind who don't have to be left behind,” he said.