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Taylor Evans Named National GEAR UP Student of the Year
taylor evans
July 21, 2021 -- Heights High junior Taylor Evans has been named the GEAR UP Student of the Year by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

The award is given to one student in the United States who embodies the GEAR UP mission to “Excel, Prove, and Mobilize.” Taylor serves as the Lead Intern/Ambassador for GEAR UP 2 New Heights. The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative focuses on increasing the college and career readiness of low-income students in communities nationwide. Currently, GEAR UP serves more than 523,000 students across 46 states.

“Taylor was selected out of hundreds of thousands of GEAR UP students across the country, and she is incredibly deserving of this honor,” said Bob Swaggard, Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “She’s a wonderful student and we are all so proud of her.”

According to Dr. Carmen Daniel, GEAR UP 2 New Heights Advisor, Taylor proves GEAR UP works by excelling academically, participating in extracurricular activities, and demonstrating her confidence in post-secondary planning.

Taylor came up with the idea of starting a GEAR UP Internship at Heights High in order to increase student engagement through peer-to-peer outreach. Her thought was that by helping interns increase their college and career readiness skills through monthly meetings, research, and journaling, they would share what they learned with family and friends. Taylor created all promotional materials and held information sessions for the program.

“Since the start of the internship, we have seen a surge in student engagement in GEAR UP activities,” said Dr. Daniel. “This year, we saw a record number of National Honor Society invitations sent to 10th grade students. To help make sure students successfully completed their applications, Taylor created a workshop for students to ask questions and receive advice. I’m proud to say there were 51 sophomores accepted into the 2021 NHS class.”

In December 2020, Taylor approached GEAR UP advisors with the idea to conduct a virtual Black Youth Entrepreneurship Expo during Black history month. As a young entrepreneur herself, Taylor saw the need to share the knowledge she gained through her journey to assist her classmates and youth across northeast Ohio as they venture into the world of business.

“This was our first time conducting a large-scale virtual event, but Taylor was ready and prepared,” said Dr. Daniel.

To prepare for the PSAT exam, Taylor came up with the idea to create a self-paced study competition using Khan Academy. Participating students logged more than 50 total practice hours and completed nearly 5,000 recommended math and reading questions. That month, 51 Heights sophomores voluntarily registered for and took the PSAT, the highest in school history.

“I never do what I do for praise; I do it because it’s something that’s needed in my community and something I’m passionate about. I hope I can continue to make you all proud,” said Taylor.

Taylor’s friend and classmate Nevaeh Braxter submitted a letter of recommendation on Taylor’s behalf for the GEAR UP award. Nevaeh recalled that during a difficult year of remote learning, Taylor motivated her to stay focused on her future, successfully encouraging her to join the GEAR UP internship program.

“Becoming active again in GEAR UP helped me to rediscover joy in school,” said Nevaeh.

“Not only does Taylor take charge respectfully, she makes sure everyone understands what is happening and feels included,” Nevaeh continued. “She encourages us to speak up for ourselves and our interests.”

Along with GEAR UP, Taylor participates in the Superintendent’s Student Cadre, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and MSAN (Minority Student Achievement Network). She is the proud owner of She’s Lovely, a faith-based company. Taylor is also a recipient of the 2021 Metropolitan Cleveland Alliance of Black School Educators Drum Major for Justice award. She plans to attend a four-year university after graduation in 2023.

“I’m not exactly sure where I want to go,” said Taylor, “but I know I can do whatever it is I have a passion for because Dr. Carmen and the GEAR UP program have pushed me to learn more, and let me know the possibilities are endless.”