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Friday, June 10, 2016

GEAR UP Program Ends After Seven Year Run

gear up students
After seven successful years, SDSU’s GEAR UP to College Avenue Compact grant has come to an end after helping create a college-going culture in the City Heights community and guiding hundreds of students in the pursuit of their educational dreams.

Thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Cynthia Park, a professor in SDSU’s School of Teacher Education, and the City Heights Educational Collaborative, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It is called GEAR UP to College Avenue Compact because of their partnership with the College Avenue Compact at Hoover High School, which guarantees admission to San Diego State University if students complete certain requirements.

This discretionary grant program provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools, and funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students. Due to the success of the program at SDSU, many students from City Heights attended or are attending college who might not have otherwise had the opportunity.

“We are proud to say that 70% of the Class of 2015 enrolled in college,” says Rebecca Contreras, GEAR UP Program Director, “GEAR UP has had a very positive impact in the San Diego community, specifically in the City Heights Community, on creating a college-going culture at the schools it has served: Monroe Clark Middle, Wilson Middle and Hoover High.”

Rebecca Contreras speaks at end-of-program celebration
Rebecca Contreras, GEAR UP Program Director,
speaks at end-of-program celebration
Because GEAR UP is a partnership grant, it has developed collaborative relationships with administration, counselors, teachers, parent centers and health centers at the schools. These relationships were maintained and strengthened through the City Heights Educational Collaborative even as the GEAR UP cohorts transitioned from the middle schools to Hoover High and so many of the partnership’s best practices have been institutionalized and continue to be sustained and expanded in the community.

Specific practices that have been institutionalized to create a college going culture include:

  • creating a College Avenue Compact college advising program to have college student mentors that conduct college knowledge presentations
  • adding more college student advisors to the CAC 3.0 program
  • infusing college knowledge into all student and parent presentations at Hoover
  • vertical alignment of professional development in English and Math among teachers in the middle and high schools
  • creating “College Corners” in every classroom for teachers to showcase their college achievements and display the College Avenue Compact requirements
  • college visits including an all 7th grade and all 10th grade visit to SDSU
  • test preparation academies/camps, 
  • leadership development programming, 
  • a College Prep Day in which all students in grades 9-11 take the PSAT, 
  • a College Signing Day in which we celebrate where seniors intend to enroll in college in the Fall, 
  • and a summer transition program to assist graduated seniors with the transition to college during the summer months.
  • service learning tutors provided in partnership with the SDSU Pre-College Institute, executive directed by Dr. Park, and their SDSU student tutors will continue to provide services at Hoover and the middle schools

In May the GEAR UP Program had its end-of-program celebration in Montezuma Hall in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. The theme of the event was “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

Student with Family

GEAR UP student poses proudly with his family
Contreras explained that, “Dr. Seuss’ book ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ was a 6th grade promotion gift to me and the book embodies the excitement and hope of continuing onto the next chapter in life, in the case of our GEAR UP students the transition to college.  It was a perfect reminder to our students that their journey will be an adventure and that it will not always be easy, but that our students are leaving high school with the tools to achieve their full potential and ‘move mountains’ in this next phase in their lives.”

The College Avenue Compact program will continue to be expanded to include Parent College Coordinators, an additional High School Advising Coordinator and two Middle School Coordinators instead of just one.  This was a result of learning the importance of college advising and mentoring for students and their parents. GEAR UP was also influential in incorporating Wilson Middle School into the City Heights Educational Collaborative. As of next year Wilson Middle School will be receiving the same College Avenue Compact services and programs as Clark Middle School, which enhances the level of academic achievement and college-going success at Hoover High School.

GEAR UP serves as another example of SDSU’s continued dedication to spread the gift of education to all who pursue it, regardless of one’s background.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article had stated the program ran for eight years. It actually ran for seven years.