Education is the fault line….
According to the U.S. Department of Education, today, more than ever before, “education is the fault line between those who will prosper in the new economy and those who will not. To prepare young people for the world of personal and professional choices in the 21st century, we must open the doors of college to all Americans.”
While many students dream of going to college, opening those doors requires more than a dream. It requires planning. It requires academically prepared students, skilled teachers, responsive counselors, strong school administrators, supportive families, and concerned citizens who understand that well-educated young people benefit their communities.
It also takes knowing how to navigate the array of options, opportunities and barriers related to college admission, often a challenge for low-income students. For decades, the college-going rate and the college completion rate for lower-income students has lagged far behind the rates for students from higher income families.
GEAR(ing) UP for college
To address these concerns, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) was launched in 1999 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The mission of this educational initiative is to significantly increase the number of low-income and minority students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. The program provides six-year grants to states and to school district-university partnerships to offer services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve and follow an entire cohort of students beginning in the middle grades, though high school and into college. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.
The Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP Partnership Project
Yale University School of Medicine has partnered with Bridgeport public schools through the GEAR UP initiative. The partnership, which began in 2008, is targeting the more than 1500 students enrolled in Bridgeport’s 19 middle schools, and is following them through high school and into their freshman year of college. The goal of the partnership is to foster students' development of critical academic and social skills and to increase educational aspirations in a way that will enable them to graduate from high school prepared and ready to succeed in college.
To accomplish this goal, three performance objectives have been identified, with programs and services designed to meet each one:
- to increase students’ academic performance and preparation for post-secondary education.
- to increase graduation rates and entry into post-secondary education.
- to increase students’ and their families’ knowledge of post-secondary education options, preparation, and financing.
In, around, and outside the classroom
How do you encourage 1500 middle-schoolers — plus their teachers, counselors, and families — to focus on planning for their futures? You offer intensive training and coaching to their teachers and counselors; academic enrichment and mentoring to students; and a range of services so that family members can learn how best to support their children as they develop high expectations and begin to understand what pursuing post secondary education means. Below is an overview of the major components of the Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP partnership.
- Targeted interventions for teachers are designed to improve the quality of math and English instruction for middle and high school students. Training involves in-service programs; classroom embedded coaching; professional learning communities; and summer institutes for middle and high school math and English teachers.
- Professional development for guidance counselors includes training in principles and best practices of positive youth development to support the establishment of youth-driven leadership and mentoring programs for adolescents. Counselors also participate in training to design, implement, and manage effective transition programs between middle and high school, and between high school and college. Professional development opportunities for teachers and counselors continue as students enter high school and throughout the full term of the Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP partnership
- Academic enrichment and support programs include classroom-based instruction in affective education; small group workshops; and individual academic advising. Students have access to an array of college and career awareness workshops; college tours (local and out-of-state); and tutoring, mentoring, and accelerated summer learning experiences. All GEAR UP students are assigned academic advisors who support and guide them through critical school transitions. The advisor, in collaboration with the student, school staff and parent(s), develops an academic progress plan that is monitored each report period to increase students’ accountability for their academic success. See the diagram below for the eight domains of student activities provided by GEAR UP.
- Tutoring and Mentoring services are integral to the Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP partnership. Tutoring spans a continuum from classroom-based instruction, to small work groups, to individualized support. Individual and small group tutoring sessions are extended to all GEAR UP students; however, for those receiving a letter grade of ‘C’ or less, tutoring is strongly encouraged. Tutoring sessions are held in school and after school hours. In addition, high school and college students mentor GEAR UP students in order to foster positive peer relationships, provide support and role modeling, and expose students to college life and potential career opportunities. The Ignition Mentor Society matches high school juniors and seniors trained as peer mentors with GEAR UP freshmen to help ease their transition into high school.
- High-quality college preparatory tools are available to assist families in navigating the college planning process and in supporting their children. Services to parents include workshops on college planning and preparation, understanding financial aid options, and managing important school transitions. Parents are invited to participate in academic advising sessions as well as college tours and fairs with their children to increase their understanding of the college planning process and its critical connection to the world of work.
GEAR UP Student Activity Domains