In the News

Walla Walla and College Place schools will share in a $25 million grant to be divided among 10 Eastern Washington school districts over the next seven years.

The federal money will be used to help students at Pioneer, Garrison and John Sager middle schools set a path for college.

GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, was established in 1998 by the Clinton administration and is administered by the federal Department of Education.

The local GEAR UP program is managed by Washington State University Tri-Cities, with oversight by a board consisting of superintendents from each participating school district.

Walla Walla and College Place public schools started participating in 2002.

The program works by focusing on specific classes of sixth- and seventh-grade students — also called cohorts — who will receive seven years of mentoring, tutoring, family advising and other support to help them make it to college.

To qualify for the program, more than 50 percent of a school’s student population must receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Other local qualifying districts include Dayton, Prescott and Touchet schools.

For the Walla Walla School District, the grant will provided an estimated $2.48 million over the next seven years.

The College Place School District will receive close to $1 million over the same period.

GEAR UP also funds programs through the students’ first year of college and what Chuck Hallsted, program director, called the summer melt — a critical decision making period after high-school graduation when many students drop their college goals.

“I think that is the most important part of this grant that sets it apart from the others,” Hallsted said. “We are allowed to follow the kids through the summer of graduation and through their first year.”

GEAR UP does not fund programs for every class in a school but only programs for specific two-year cohorts of sixth- and seventh-grade students. So in the past, some sixth- and seventh-grade classes went without the funding.

But entire schools will benefit from GEAR UP, Hallsted said, because the program creates a college-bound atmosphere for all. And some programs will include entire school populations, such as a recent schoolwide assembly at Pioneer Middle School that had teachers sharing their college experiences with all grade levels.

Other districts that will share in the $25 million grant include Kennewick, Othello, Warden, Moses Lake and Soap Lake.

Each district receives a base of $80,000. Hallsted said the remaining funds are distributed based on the number of full-time-equivalent students.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

Source: Walla Walla Union-Bulletin