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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today proclaimed this week as “GEAR UP Week” to recognize the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative, a program funded by the United States Department of Education to help students pursue and achieve some form of education or training beyond high school. This week has been declared “National GEAR UP Week” by program partners across the country.

“GEAR UP is an exemplary program that has had a proven, positive impact in West Virginia,” Governor Tomblin said. “GEAR UP not only encourages students to dream big, but also provides them with the guidance and knowledge they need to turn their dreams into realities. There is no more powerful vehicle for personal betterment and community growth than education. The GEAR UP program empowers our young people to build meaningful lives here in the Mountain State.”

Students from Kaimuki, Nānākuli, Wai‘anae and Waipahu High Schools spoke today to the Hawai‘i State Legislature about the college access program GEAR UP and the impact it has had on their success in high school and aspirations for college.

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a college access program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Since its inception in 1999, GEAR UP has improved educational outcomes for millions of low-income students across the United States. This week, Hawai‘i celebrates the success of its GEAR UP programs as part of National GEAR UP Week.

There are three GEAR UP programs in Hawai‘i: GEAR UP Hawai‘i, GEAR UP Waipahu and Holomua GEAR UP. Each program collaborates with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE), the University of Hawai‘i (UH) System as well as the government, nonprofit and private sectors to provide information, encouragement, support, resources and services to over 20,000 students statewide to help eliminate achievement gaps among groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Twenty-five GEAR UP students from high schools across the commonwealth will be honored at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. Awards will be presented for Students of the Year and Promising Appalachian Leaders In Service.

The ceremony, “Celebrating Student Voice,” is the kick-off of Kentucky’s first-ever GEAR UP Week Celebration, recognizing emerging high school student leaders from the GEAR UP programs. Featured speakers include GEAR UP students, Council on Postsecondary Education president Bob King and Aaron Thompson, interim president of Kentucky State University and board chair of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared the week of Sept. 19-23 as Arizona GEAR UP Week in the state.

The proclamation coincides with the celebration of National GEAR UP Week 2016. The week commemorates the continuing success of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduates Programs, a national program intended to help low-income students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college.

Arizona GEAR UP, now in its third round of federal funding since 2000, is currently working with 18 middle schools and 13 high schools in rural communities across the state, bringing the total number of students and their families assisted with preparing, applying and paying for college to more than 12,000.

“Northern Arizona University embraces its commitment to the success of all of Arizona’s young people, and the work of GEAR UP is a great example of that commitment,” said Daniel Kain, NAU vice provost for Academic Personnel and principal investigator for the program.

GEAR UP’s numbers speak to the program’s success. In 2012, the graduation rate for GEAR UP students who had been in the program for six years was 83 percent, compared with a statewide average of 73 percent, and the college enrollment rate was 72 percent, compared with a statewide average of 51 percent.

During GEAR UP Week 2016, GEAR UP school partners have planned special events to celebrate the hard work and the progress students are making towards achieving their life-long dream of going to college.

The Eastern Wyoming College GEAR UP program has implemented a Parent Advisory Board (PAB) to promote the discussion and development of a shared vision of the educational needs of all EWC GEAR UP students. PAB provides a forum for parents to share their opinions and ideas with each other, the school GEAR UP staff, and EWC GEAR UP Director Judy Brown.

The PAB is made up of volunteer parent representatives from each EWC GEAR UP school. Members of the initial PAB are Theresa Wilhem, representing Glendo schools; Melisa Wilhoit, Torrington; and Tori Hunt, Lingle and Southeast schools.

The PAB will attend monthly GU meetings in the school they represent, and offer assistance, advice and feedback to the EWC GEAR UP staff. PAB will aid the GU staff with monthly meetings, set up, notifications and reminders to parents who have students enrolled in the EWC GEAR UP Program, which they are welcome to attend.

PAB will attend tutor training each year to become more informed regarding the GEAR UP program in their school.

Dispelling the myth that private college is out of reach for all but the well to do, Oregon GEAR UP and The Alliance recently hosted a one-week summer program for rural, low-income students to explore opportunities available at private nonprofit colleges across the state.

Twenty-one current year seniors from nine rural high schools, including two from Woodburn High School, participated at the event hosted at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

The high school students got a brief taste of college life by staying in Lewis & Clark’s dorms during the week and, during the day, students toured seven campuses and participated in workshops about the college search and application process.

“My biggest takeaway from the camp was I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, but now I’m really well prepared to apply to colleges because the experience was really helpful,” said Kristianna “Kiki” Drum, a senior at Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy.

Drum, 17, said before the camp she didn’t know a lot about private nonprofit colleges other than they are more expensive than state colleges.

“But after going to the camp and visiting all these different colleges around Oregon, I feel I learned a lot more and I’m interested in going to a private college,” she said.

The highest-scoring Canyon County district was Notus, a small district of about 410 students in a rural part of the county between Caldwell and Parma.

Notus school district staff said they were pleased with the results. About 47 percent of test takers met the math college readiness benchmark. This is the highest percentage meeting the benchmark of the Canyon County districts.

Fifty-nine percent met the reading and writing benchmark.

District staff feel the students excelled in answering "real-world problems." Part of that is attributed to their GEAR UP grant that provided extra support for the students, according to superintendent Craig Woods and secondary counselor Lorrie Houston.

As the GEAR UP students transition to Ottumwa High School as freshmen, a new face will provide expanded GEAR UP services, thanks to support from the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation.

The State of Iowa was awarded a second federal GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) in the fall of 2014. Ottumwa was selected to participate. The project supports a group of students (Class of 2020) for seven years, following them from seventh grade through their twelfth grade year. Students and their families receive a variety of services aimed at preparing them academically, financially and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in college. Upon enrollment in college, GEAR UP Iowa students will receive a modest scholarship for up to four years.

Stephanie Lewis and one of her students both cried when he graduated in the spring from South Pittsburg High School in Tennessee, where she teaches English.

He’d done something she admits she wasn’t sure he could: finish high school fully prepared to go right to college.

That’s a feat a surprising number of high school graduates fail to accomplish. Half a million, or about one in four, show up on campuses each fall not ready to take college courses in math or English, according to the advocacy organization Education Reform Now. In Tennessee, only 17 percent of public high school students score at college-ready levels in English, math, reading, and science on standardized tests.

It’s a little-noticed problem that forces these students to relearn material they should have already known, discouraging huge numbers of them from ultimately getting their degrees and costing the nation, by various estimates, between $1.5 billion and $7 billion a year.

But the idea of solving it in high school is as rare as it is seemingly obvious.

“This is how it should be done,” said Alexandra Logue, executive vice chancellor and university provost for the City University of New York, or CUNY, system. “It is, however, more complicated than it sounds. You have to have everyone agreeing on what the standards are. And there are timing issues. When do you find out the student needs this, and how does that connect with when you provide the support?”

High schools in many parts of the country are judged on the proportion of their students who graduate, whether or not those students are ready for college. Surprisingly, scoring “proficient” on state-mandated standardized tests required to receive high school diplomas, also does not necessarily mean that students are prepared for college-level work.

No one in Vanessa Dishmond’s family has gone to college, but that is about to change.

The Macon woman’s daughter Alania already has toured 17 campuses and she is only beginning her senior year at Central High School.

Since sixth grade, Alania has been involved in the GEAR UP program, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, funded by a 2011 U.S. Department of Education grant.

On Saturday, her mother spent the day at Wesleyan College at Parent University.

“They really helped me out with all the college information,” Dishmond said after the class.

Not only did the 18 parents learn how to apply for financial aid and file applications, they were encouraged to prepare their children years before they are ready for college.