Cooke Foundation Awards $855,000 in Grants to Benefit Low-Income Rural Students


The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has awarded $855,000 to academic enrichment programs serving low-income rural students in elementary and secondary schools in North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi and Virginia.

The Cooke Foundation Rural Talent Initiative grants are designed to help expand opportunities for rigorous summer and academic year learning and enrichment for students in rural regions, where access to educational opportunities is limited.

A 2015 University of New Hampshire study found that “rural students have considerably less access to AP [Advanced Placement] courses than their peers in more urban areas.” While only about 3 percent of urban school districts and 5 percent of suburban districts had no students enrolled in AP classes, the figure jumped to 47 percent of rural districts.

“Low-income rural students can help build a better and more prosperous future for our country, and they deserve the same opportunities as other students to get a good education and go as far as their abilities take them,” said Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. “Talented students, regardless of their geographic location and family income, need to be supported so they can reach their fullest potential.”

The new grants will go to:

  • The Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa in Iowa City – $200,000 over two years. The center received a $500,000 Talent Development Award from the Cooke Foundation in 2014 for its STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL) program for students in Grades 5 to 7. It will use its new grant to expand the program to students in Grades 8 and 9 in 10 rural Iowa school districts. The program offers students rigorous math and science enrichment classes before and after school. It will serve over 600 students each year.
  • The Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access in Forrest, Mississippi – $200,000 over two years. The Consortium is comprised of seven school districts in high-poverty rural areas in which most schools don’t offer any Advanced Placement courses. Additional districts with similar profiles will be added going forward. The Consortium will use the Cooke Foundation grant to create five online AP physics and calculus courses taught by outstanding educators at leading institutions, including the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Courses will be presented in a blended format, combining online and classroom instruction. To prepare for the high school courses, students will attend a residential summer program at Mississippi State University and will receive additional support during the year. Over 50 are expected to enroll in the Consortium’s AP courses in the coming school year and the number is expected to grow to over 200 in three years.
  • YES Appalachia in Watauga County, North Carolina— $150,000 over two years. YES is a nonprofit organization that identifies young leaders from low-income communities and equips them with the resources, support, and academic skills required for success through high school, college, and careers. Originating in Los Angeles in 1998, it has since expanded to serve communities in New York City, Chicago and North Carolina. YES identifies outstanding low-income students in 6th grade, providing them with extensive services and support, including enrichment classes in their home schools in math, logic and physics; weekend sessions at Appalachian State University exploring many subjects; and summer education programs at Appalachian State University and other schools around the country. YES also assists students in the college admissions process, including funding free SAT and ACT prep courses, personalized college counseling and financial aid workshops. The grant will enable YES Appalachia to serve an additional 51 students in the upcoming school year and 70 in the second year of the grant.
  • The Valley Scholars Program at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia – $135,000 over two years. The program provides students from rural middle and high schools in Virginia with intensive guidance for high school course selection and support for academic success. It enables them to participate in career exploration, service projects, financial literacy sessions, summer enrichment courses at JMU, and a mentorship program. The program will use its grant to expand from serving 148 students in next school year to 192 in 2018-19 and offer more services. Students successfully completing the program are offered a JMU scholarship covering tuition and fees.
  • The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, Maine – $120,000 over two years. The selective admissions high school will use its Cooke Foundation grant to develop online enrichment courses designed to introduce middle school students to advanced science, technology, engineering and math subjects to encourage them to continue studies in the subjects in the future. Courses will use interactive gaming and simulations to capture student interest. Up to 75 students will be served in the coming school year, expanding to up to 150 in the following year.  
  • The Purdue University Gifted Education Resource Institute in West Lafayette, Indiana – $50,000 for one year. The grant will fund a study of census data to determine the underrepresentation of low-income students from rural areas and elsewhere in gifted education programs. Currently less than half the schools around the nation report gifted education data. Researchers suspect that schools in low-income communities and in communities with large minority populations make up a disproportionate number of those not reporting gifted enrollment. The study will provide a comprehensive national report on which types of students are being identified for gifted education programs, with the goal of developing strategies to equalize access to such programs.


The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also provided over $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.