KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Project GRAD helps students at Austin-East and Fulton High Schools receive all kinds of tools for school as they prepare for college or trade school. WATE has spent the last month getting to know this year’s class, their teachers and their families. For Jayda Grady, her teacher and parent are one and the same.

Ruby Heard teaches West African Dance at Austin-East Magnet High School. She throws her heart and soul into a career she loves and a school she knows well.

“I actually was a student here at Austin-East. I graduated in 2003. When I left here, I went to Alabama A & M. I also joined the Army Reserve and so I came back after that and decided to teach, and keep on teaching,” she said.

Down the hall at another dance class is Heard’s daughter Jayda Grady, a Project Grad scholar dancing her own way to a fulfilling career.

“I plan to go to college and major in psychology and dance because I want to be a dance therapist,” Grady told WATE.

Grady said she is grateful to Project GRAD for exposing her and other students early to college life at its required pre-college Summer Institutes: one week spent on campus at the University of Tennessee and at Pellissippi State Community College.

“It helps you explore different colleges. You can stay there and get an insight on colleges: what works, and what you need to get prepared for so it’s very helpful,” Grady said.

Helpful, too, is having a supportive parent; a high-energy, positive influence on the daughter following her steps, especially during challenging times in her high school career: from gun violence to the pandemic.

“It’s been great, my four years, despite the stuff that we went through throughout the years,” Grady said.

Heard shared, “I’m happy to have her here in school so I can get to her quickly and know the things that are going on.”

Project GRAD has been a constant through good times and bad since 2001, helping students navigate their way to a positive future after high school. Your support is needed now more than ever.

“Please continue to donate,” Heard said. “Continue to reach out to the students, continue to encourage this program because sooner or later, they’re going to be the ones taking care of us.”

“Thank you to the community, our community, for supporting Project GRAD. Couldn’t do this without you!” said Grady.