Jan. 30, 2020 -- Heights High’s 9th graders are gearing up for their futures thanks to their participation in a long-term federal program called GEAR UP: Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The grant-funded program follows one cohort of students from 7th grade through the completion of their first post-high school year with the intention of increasing college attendance and retention rates.
According to Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the district, Robert Swaggard, “The mentality of the Class of 2023 has been honed toward college since 7th grade.” There have been increased discussions of college, increased opportunities to visit colleges, and an increased focus on the coursework and study skills necessary to be college-ready. Something as simple as knowing how to log into and use Naviance, the college and career preparation site available to all district students, or as meaningful as math tutoring so students have a better shot of passing Algebra 1, are all part of the program.
GEAR UP also has an incentive component, designed to get students excited about school and help them feel a sense of belonging to their classmates. The class has freshmen t-shirts and recently all students who met their academic goals went on their first reward field trip to see the movie Just Mercy.
The program is a partnership grant which means that the students have the support of a College and Career Access Advisor from College Now Cleveland. Carmen Daniels, who happens to be a Heights grad herself, is stationed in the high school and works with students on scheduling, advising, and mentoring. She also participates in both AVID courses and Freshmen Seminar and helps coordinate the Link Crew, made up of junior and senior student mentors.
In addition to Link Crew, Roxboro and Monticello offered the middle school mentoring WEB program, Where Everyone Belongs, as part of GEAR UP. This is one of many aspects that the district plans to replicate with other grades. Mr. Swaggard reports that they hope to secure additional grant funding to be part of the Ohio GEAR UP grant to continue on with those aspects that are proving most successful.
In December, the Link Crew hosted an after-school study session to help the freshmen prepare for their first ever final exams. Mr. Swaggard called it a “dynamic sight” with two-thirds of freshmen attending and studying alongside tutors, mentors and teachers. “Granted,” he said, “we did bribe them with cookies.”
Cookies or not, the district is fully committed to getting the class of 2023 to college and helping them stay there.