Saying goodbye to GEAR UP!
It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve as the GEAR UP Coordinator since September 2008. GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federally-funded college access program which aims to significantly increase the number of low-income students who graduate from high school and succeed in post-secondary education. BBBBF and FUSD have partnered with NAU to serve FUSD students through this GEAR UP grant since 2006. The program is ending in June 2012 and has made a remarkable impact over the years. Most of the GEAR UP students that I have come to know have coped with hardships that most adults I know have not even come close to experiencing. These students deal with poverty, daily three-hour commutes to school, substance abuse, teen parenting, and many other issues, all while trying to maintain decent grades, complete their homework, hold down jobs, combat negative peer pressure, and enjoy some semblance of a normal adolescent social life. We must not underestimate the power of young people. We must celebrate their gifts, their resilience, their optimism for the future and their ability to persevere against the odds. Although teens are still figuring out who they are and what they stand for, they are often wise beyond their years. I have learned so much from the students in this program. They have reminded me that no matter our age, we are all constantly an evolving work in progress. The 48 seniors currently in our program at Coconino High School are the last ones of the 194 we have served throughout the six years of the grant. They are working hard on their schoolwork, and taking the necessary steps to fulfill their dreams and plans for after graduation. In Arizona, about 45% of high school graduates go on to enroll in postsecondary education the following fall. In comparison, of our 48 seniors, 37 (or 77%) have applied to a postsecondary school (university, community college or vocational institute) and most have already been admitted!
Some of the highlights throughout this GEAR UP grant have been:
• Family events and parent workshops
– 29 meetings over the years, involving 99 parents (most more than once) covering financial aid, college preparation, parenting issues, and celebrations of students’ successes;
• Eight college tours – to ASU, NAU, CCC, Yavapai College, Northland Pioneer College;
• After-school tutoring – GEAR UP funds made it possible to arrange for this.
• Service learning projects – 26 students participated in an early literacy-reading project with preschool children one year and/or a mural project another year;
• NAU’s Summer Enrichment Program – 48 students participated in this weeklong immersion into college life at NAU with other high school students from across Arizona;
• Job Shadowing – 35 students spent a half or fullday exposed to a career they were interested in pursuing;
• The Story Project – a Portland-based group that led a 3-day workshop on student empowerment through sharing their life stories.
• Mentoring Opportunities – BBBSF Bigs from NAU served as Mentors at weekly lunch meetings as well as participants in college Q and A panels. BBBSF Board members gave their time and knowledge to GEAR UP students during Job Shadowing and by facilitating mock interviews. Some GEAR UP students were matched as Littles through Community-based mentoring. As they grew older, these students became Bigs themselves through the School-based mentoring. This full circle of giving and receiving friendship has been so positive and influential for our students.
The Arizona GEAR UP program included a substantial scholarship component. Our GEAR UP students recently had the opportunity to compete with other students from across the state for scholarships valued at $24,000. Nineteen of our seniors completed the rather rigorous application process. Six have already been notified they have been awarded. Another nine are finalists, anxiously and excitedly preparing for interviews in Phoenix in late April. Last year, five of our eight 2011 graduates received a GEAR UP scholarship and went on to college. As we bid farewell to the GEAR UP program, we should not feel sad because there is so much opportunity still to come as a result of our efforts. I know that we have helped to leave lasting ideals in the schools. GEAR UP seniors are equipped and ready to create happy, productive and successful lives for themselves. Many thanks to everyone from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff community for all your contributions that helped to make this a successful grant cycle. GEAR UP has accomplished helping youth prepare to succeed in postsecondary education and beyond.
In gratitude and celebration,