For the students in Project SOAR to make it, a lot of things have to come together.
Some of that starts with the students, said one of the program's creators, retired Altoona Area school guidance department director Kathleen O'Rourke. Initially identified by eighth-grade teachers, the students are then screened by the SOAR steering committee, which makes the final selection.
Once they're in the program, they're monitored all through high school by program staff and overseen by mentors. To date, of the 52 students in the program, only two have been dropped and one was because the student moved out of the district, O'Rourke said. In addition to meeting grade and attendance requirements, the students must attend regular meetings that last almost two hours, O'Rourke said.
"It's not easy for them,'' she said. "We really push them on this.''
But the end result is worth it if they make it, she said. The students will receive $7,500 that will be paid to the college or higher-education institution of their choice, plus $300 for books. That should give them a good start at higher education, and they're aiming high, too, O'Rourke said. In the group of students who just completed their first year in college, career choices include physical therapist, lawyer and physician.
The students chose colleges and technical schools ranging from Juniata College, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and YTI Career Institute to Penn State University, Saint Francis University and Penn Highlands Community College. The students did well in their first year school and several made the dean's list, O'Rourke said.
The Altoona Area School District's nonprofit foundation has taken the program under its wing to help SOAR raise money. Many businesses and individuals have stepped forward to donate to the program, including several active and retired teachers, O'Rourke said.
"That shows that the teachers realize the effect that these students could have on the future of Altoona,'' she said.
As the pot of money grows, the goal is to open the program to as many students as possible, O'Rourke said.
To donate to Project SOAR, contact Paula Foreman, foundation executive director, at 946-8424.