In February 2015, the Village of Hempstead’s Alverta B. Gray. Schultz Middle School, in partnership with Nassau Community College, received a state grant through an initiative called New York Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs [NYGEAR UP], which is funded with federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Education, funneled through the Higher Education Services Corporation. A.B.G.S. was chosen to receive the nearly $500,000 grant designed to give students college and career readiness in low-income areas where there is a 50 percent or higher poverty level. The NYGEAR UP program grants schools the funds to have tutors in class and expanded academic opportunities such as: local college visits, summer workshops and camps, educational field trips, and counselors to guide students and parents so they understand what is required for college and courses that will help them master everyday life skills.
The program originally began at A.B.G.S. with funding for eighth graders in 2015, but this year, they received additional money to add another class. All students within the seventh and eighth grade are participants in the NYGEAR UP Program which provides them with tutoring services, mentorship, counseling, college tours and programs, along with standardized test preparation and non-cognitive skills curriculum. The non-cognitive skills curriculum in particular helps students with various organizational skills such as planning their day, understanding how to do homework efficiently, and setting both long term and short term goals for themselves as well time management skills. This part of the NYGEAR UP program is designed to help students learn skills that will help them succeed not only in school, but also in their everyday lives.
This part of the curriculum focuses on nurturing “the whole student, not just the academic part because if they don’t possess certain skills or certain strategies, or even able to set goals for themselves, their chance of success are tremendously decreased,” said Nona Donovan, director of NYGEAR UP.
“Not every student is going to excel academically,” said Waylynn Hobbs, a Hempstead Village trustee. “It’s not in everyone’s makeup…it has to be a well-balanced education.”
This is why NYGEAR UP’s focus is not just on improving academics, but also on preparing students for life beyond the classroom with strategic approaches to work as well as preparing them to transition from middle school to high school and then to college.
The college camp program that A.B.G.S. has through NYGEAR UP is designed to emphasize the importance of secondary education. Through the camp, “students are traveling to a college campus and seeing what it’s like to be at college, and that’s probably one of the most important things in the younger years,” explained Donovan.
“We want them to see college so they’re not afraid and think they can never make it…It is important for them to travel and see other campuses…And not just for students but we want parents to have that travel, to understand that college is available,” said James Clark, assistant superintendent of Hempstead Schools.
Another focus of NYGEAR UP is increasing parental engagement about education in general and about postsecondary education specifically.
“One of the big components is parent engagement in GEAR UP,” Donovan said. “The more aware parents are in what it takes for their child to go to college, it makes it so much easier for students.”
“The hope of the program is to bring about systematic change as well,” said Nilda Garcia, Nassau Community College’s Science and Technology program director and partner with A.B.G.S. “So the idea is that you start to introduce conversations about college early to students in younger grades, and you start to give parents more information and make them more aware about how to support their children and [think] about college.”
With students from Nassau Community College coming into A.B.G.S.’s classrooms to tutor and have conversations with middle-schoolers about what college is like, students are able to get a glimpse as to what their future can be like if they continue striving to improve and focus on school.
Due to these programs, the college camps, tutoring and both academic and non-academic curriculums, students’ attitudes towards learning have begun to change.
“I have definitely seen a difference in the behavior and the motivation about that class – it’s changed tremendously, it’s night and day,” said Marilyn Monroe, NYGEAR UP director at Nassau Community College. “They come in prepared, they come in on time and ready to learn.”
Despite being in its initial stages, NYGEAR UP has already begun to impact students and parents alike in Hempstead– from more student involvement in classrooms to parent engagement and advocacy on behalf of their students.
Still, Clark elaborated on what he would like to see come from the program in the long run: “That more parents get involved, that parents change their scope and realize their kids have the opportunity with a good education to go to college. That students become more self-engaged in their own careers and advocacy for themselves. That we prove in many fashions that learning is a lifelong thing and they embrace that…and it started from GEAR UP and they can pinpoint where their lives truly changed.”
Source: Long Island Report