Grants totaling $3.3 million from two Dane County groups are aimed at closing the achievement gap in Madison and Verona schools.

The Burke Foundation is granting $2.3 million over the next three years and the new American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation is pledging $1 million over five years to support programs provided by the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. Those programs are the College Club and the Advancement via Individual Determination and Teens of Promise college preparedness programs.

“American Family and The Burke Foundation have both been committed supporters of our efforts for years, and their generous investments will help put more than 1,000 students on the path to realize their greatest potential,” said Michael Johnson, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County.

“Our relationship with the boys and girls club is much more profound and it’s much more meaningful than simply a donation and a handshake, but with that said that in order for program like AVID/TOPS and organizations like the boys and girls club to take full flight and reach their full measure financial resources have to be brought to bear,” said Judd Schemmel, community investment director of American Family Insurance.

Johnson said the grants will help the Boys & Girls Club expand academic tutoring to help more students improve their grades and graduate from high school and expand the club’s capacity to provide more tutors, mentors, summer internships and scholarships.

“To overcome those voices of self-doubt and those who won’t see them as college material, so when they face those setbacks get right back up because they believe in themselves,” said Mary Burke, chair of the AVID/TOPS steering committee and Board member of the Burke Foundation.

The programs help hundreds of students around Dane County like, Norma Samaniego, a senior at Madison West High School. Samaniego said it wasn’t until she entered the program that she found her potential to grow, succeed and dream of going to college.

“They were there to support me, to be successful, to want something for myself to be a better person for myself and my family, so I could show them that it is possible. No matter if you come from a low-income family or that you have all those barriers coming in your way, it’s possible. You can do it,” Samaniego said.

Eighty-four percent of club members live at the federally defined poverty level, 95 percent are students of color, 51 percent come from single-parent households and 38 percent qualify for free or reduced meals from the public schools.

“Statistically speaking, these children are less likely to experience success at school, complete high school and enroll in and graduate from college,” Johnson said. “These are the young people who need us the most.”

University of Wisconsin’s Hope Lab says the program has proved its success over the years. In a new evaluation to be released next month, the study found 73 percent of AVID/TOPS students go to college compared to 62 percent who go to college who are not in the program. Those statistics are credited to expanding opportunities and increasing attendance.

“It’s reducing the number of absences that they have and as any parent knows, showing up for class is a hard task and getting them there is so important because that’s where the learning happens,” said Dr.Sara Goldrick-Rab, of Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

The Milwaukee Bucks are teaming up with the Boys & Girls Club to provide a new youth education incentive program. One of the team’s owners, Wes Edens, said he will donate his two courtside seats for eight games this season to Madison-area students who show measured improvement in the areas of literacy, behavior and attendance. The Milwaukee Bucks will also donate an additional 30 tickets to each of the eight games.