James Ketelsen

Daily Point of Light # 1217 Oct 2, 1998

James Ketelsen , retired CEO of Tenneco, founded Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams), a program designed to improve inner-city education. His work dates back to 1989, when Tenneco, under Mr. Ketelsen, partnered with Davis High School in Houston, a school which had a 30% graduation rate and where students rarely pursued higher education. Mr. Ketelsen believed that many children in that community did not have the right opportunities presented, lacked motivation and did not see that people cared.

At the beginning in 1993, Project GRAD focused on the seven elementary schools and the one middle school that fed into Davis High. Ketelsen believed that if the program was implemented into the schools while the children were young, students would progress and succeed more. Project GRAD developed a system to strengthen the academic track by reforming the curriculum and engaging the local community in a common effort to find more effective ways to educate the children within the community. It developed three different programs to be implemented into the school system. "Move It Math" focuses on the math programs and "Success for All" and "Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition," focus on reading. Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline (management practices and student discipline), and Communities In Schools support services (parental and community involvement) are two other programs that were implemented into the school structure. Reform was needed within the Davis High community. The elementary and middle schools feeding into Davis are located in a low-income community, where drug use, crime and unemployment are high. Currently, there are 24 schools and 17,000 children impacted by Project GRAD.

Mr. Ketelsen wants to solidify the academic and social connection so that the kids involved in the program not only graduate, but also pursue higher education. Mr. Ketelsen is unique because, besides solidifying and managing the program, he does hands on work. He attends teacher's meetings, delivers supplies, tutors the student, and monitors project implementation and staff perceptions. Mr. Ketelsen feels that he was given many opportunities and successes through his education and would like everyone to experience the benefits of education.

Project GRAD is a year-round program. It is intervention plan and has become part of the school's curriculum to not only keep kids in school but to keep them on grade level. During the summer, scholarship recipients attend summer institute programs and receive an extensive four week training session in reading study skills, time management, critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as mathematics and courses in the natural sciences.

The results have been positive. The scholarship program has resulted in improved attendance, grades, college-bound rates, parent involvement, and job training. Davis' college-bound rate went from 10% in 1981 to 66% in 1994.

Project GRAD is over 90% funded by private donors; Mr. Ketelsen has secured more than $6.5 million since 1993. Volunteers come from a number of organizations. The program continues to expand, with an increase of eight schools during the next school year. The school system in Newark, NJ is raising funds and preparing to replicate Project GRAD.