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AT&T Grant Continues to Help WIU-QC and Rock Island School District PACERS Program

December 8, 2011

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MOLINE, IL — Thanks to AT&T, Rock Island (IL) High School PACERS (Positive Achievement and Creativity Equals Righteous Success) — an intensive mentoring, academic and volunteer-based program developed through school and community efforts and Western Illinois University-Quad Cities — continues to benefit from a nearly $375,000 infusion to help at-risk ninth grade students in the Rock Island School District (RISD).

At a Dec. 8 event at the WIU-QC Riverfront Campus, AT&T presented the final installment of the $375,000 award, which was first announced in 2008, for the PACERS program. The funds are made available as part of a $48 million competitive grant program via the AT&T Aspire program, the company's signature initiative, which addresses high school success and workforce readiness.

"We are appreciative of AT&T's ongoing commitment to, and support of, the PACERS program, which provides essential academic resources to high school students in the Quad Cities," said WIU President Jack Thomas. "Working in cooperation with the Rock Island School District, Western is able to further its mission of delivering hands-on learning and professional development opportunities for our students, while providing a valuable service to a school district in our region."

According to Holly Nikels, associate professor in WIU's counselor education department who works with the program, the AT&T grant has helped continue the PACERS program, which was started a few years ago at Rock Island High School (RIHS).

"PACERS operated for four years through the volunteer efforts of a small group of individuals from the Rock Island community, RIHS and WIU. We did not have any external funding, except what the volunteers were able to give. The standing joke was 'If we could get $100 to buy pizza for the kids, we would be happy!' So the generosity of AT&T is amazing to all of us," Nikels said.

She noted the funding has allowed for the purchase of school supplies for each student, the addition of 20 paid mentors to work with two students weekly at the high school for each school year, transportation to and from monthly community-service projects, school/work site visits and leadership-training opportunities.

"The grant has also helped pay for WIU graduate assistants, who are school counselors in training, at RIHS. The graduate assistants have functioned as two part-time school counselors at no cost to the district," Nikels added.

Although RIHS currently employs a group of school counselors, who Nikels describes as "amazing and incredibly dedicated," the additional graduate student counselors have provided much needed help to the overextended counseling staff.

"The American School Counseling Association recommends a ratio of one school counselor per every 250 students. Most schools far exceed this recommendation, and Rock Island is no different. The addition of these graduate assistants has helped carry some of the load for the district," Nikels said.

"Thanks to AT&T's generous contribution, we have been able to touch the lives of many high school students. With the continued support of AT&T and the contributions for the counselor education department, we look forward to helping more students prepare for their futures," said Dean of the College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) Sterling Saddler.

"We are excited and extremely grateful to AT&T for continuing this partnership that has proven to help local students succeed. This is a proud moment for all of us as we continue to support educational partnerships and success to the benefit of students and the region," said Vice President for Quad Cities, Planning and Technology Joe Rives.

Through the AT&T Aspire initiative the company has committed $100 million in philanthropy through 2011 to schools and nonprofit organizations focused on high school retention and better preparing students for college and the workforce.

For more information about the PACERS program, contact Nikels at (309) 762-1876 or

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