In the News

COTTONWOOD - Getting students into college is one thing. Getting them to succeed once they get there is another. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is helping students clear both hurdles.

"There are only 10 districts in the state that have GEAR UP and we are one of them," said Gretchen Wesbrock, GEAR UP coordinator and counselor for the Mingus High School Class of 2018.

"It supports students to not only be prepared to access postsecondary education, but to be successful once they get there," Wesbrock said.

GEAR UP-along with the Mingus Union High School District-is celebrating National GEAR UP Week Sept. 21 through Sept. 25.

"GEAR UP is a federal grant that Mingus received in 2012 that works to get more students into post-secondary education," said Wesbrock. "GEAR UP started with the Class of 2018 when they were in 7th grade and will continue to provide services to them and their families through graduation."

The program identifies at-risk students and provides them with academic tools (such as tutoring and workshops) as well as social tools (such as family coaching and mentoring and assistance in applying for financial aid).

Even though GEAR UP assists students who may be economically disadvantaged, the program works with an entire grade level of students. As long as at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, all students benefit.

As the GEAR UP program reminds us, "In today's global economy, what you earn depends on what you learn."

"You look that data and something is working," Wesbrock said. "Compared to other rural school, it's super inspiring."

"In 2012, the Arizona high school graduation rate was 73 percent, but for GEAR UP students, it was 83 percent. The percent of students going to college was 51 percent, while 72 percent go to college in GEAR UP."

Northern Arizona University is the higher-education partner for the Mingus GEAR UP program.

"I think the big hurdle is that families are busy, so it's not that they don't want to be involved, it's just the challenge of busy lives and schedules," said Wesbrock.

"Another thing is how the parents become more involved if the kids are more involved. If the kids are coming-in for something else, like an event, the parents are more likely to, as well," Wesbrock said.

The U.S. Department of Education provides the six-to seven-year grants and requires partnerships among K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, local and state education entities, businesses and community-based organizations. Non-federal contribution must equal at least 50 percent of the total grant funds.

"It allows them to follow students from 7th to 12th grade. It's powerful that someone would know these kids for that length of time," said Wesbrock.

"That's a really important part of what this grant does. It supports students to not only be prepared to access post-secondary education, but be successful once they get there," Wesbrock said.

Source: Verde Independent