Students at Whitehall-Yearling High School, upon their return to class Aug. 20, can take advantage of a new program called I Know I Can.

The nonprofit organization has been a mainstay in Columbus City Schools since it was founded in 1988, but last spring was the first time it was made available to other districts in central Ohio.

This school year will be the first full year I Know I Can is available to students in the Whitehall and South-Western City school districts.

"We went where the need was," said Laura Kraus, director of programming for I Know I Can.

The program is designed to inspire students to go to college, help them find the financial means to do so, and support them once they graduate.

According to its website, I Know I Can has awarded more than 22,000 grants to Columbus City Schools graduates, together valued at nearly $23 million, and has leveraged additional financial aid worth more than $300 million.

The move into the two suburban districts was made possible with a grant of $871,833 approved by Franklin County commissioners earlier this year.

The grant enabled operation of I Know I Can as a pilot program in the two districts in March and the program will continue at both districts for the 2018-19 school year, said Alyssa Petrella, assistant program director.

Two staff members from I Know I Can will be available four days a week at Whitehall-Yearling, as well as at Franklin Heights and Westland high schools in South-Western City Schools.

The two college-advisory managers will help provide students with direction for choosing a college and preparing for college or other post-secondary opportunities, Kraus said.

"We want to help kids with plans for after high school," she said.

One staff member will work with freshmen and sophomores and the other with juniors and seniors at each high school, counseling students appropriately for their stage in life as they approach graduation, Kraus said.

The program was expanded under a contract with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.

Kevin Boyce is the president of the Franklin County commissioners and sits on the board of I Know I Can.

"I Know I Can is a life-changing program for thousands of central Ohio kids," said Boyce, who was among the earliest graduates of the program.

"(I) can't tell you what a difference it made for me and my family," he said. "Every young person should have somebody in their corner telling them that they can go on to college if they want to and helping to show them how to make it a reality."

Whitehall City School District Superintendent Brian Hamler said he looks forward to the first full year of the program.

"We are excited to bring the expertise of I Know I Can to the students of Whitehall City Schools," he said.

"They will be working closely with our counselors to assist students in refining their college and career plans while strengthen the skills necessary for them to succeed in school and in life," he said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo