The News Guard: Taft Students Gear Up for College Success header image

Taft 7-12 School in Lincoln City, OR was profiled in The News Guard on September 25, 2012. An excerpt of the story is here, or read the full article below.

Taft students gear up for college success, The News Guard, 9.26.12, by Jim Fossum

Taft High 7-12 staffer Susan Smith was taken aback upon her arrival at the school a few years ago when a student rushed up to her during a 60-mile college recruiting field trip to Oregon Western University in Monmouth. "I didn't know the kids and hadn't had much exposure to them," Smith said, "and one came up and was like, 'Oh, Mrs. Smith, this is so cool.' And I said, 'Yes, it [the college] is.' And, he said, 'No. the town. I've never been out of Lincoln City.'" The encounter with the middle-school student came as a shock to Smith, who had never been around kids who were so unexposed to life out of high school. It's led her to place the label "dream deficient" on many of Taft's underprivileged students who haven't pondered life off the Oregon Coast. Smith said she would ask students what their aspirations were out of high school — in other words, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" — and many hadn't even thought about it.'

"We told them there are options outside of Lincoln City that are OK for them to dream about," she said, "that it's OK for them to be a scientist, because if you don't dream about it, how are you going to do it?" To the rescue at Taft has been GEAR UP, a national secondary education assistance program that has supplied a $35,000 recurring grant that expires at the end of the next school year. Through funding from GEAR UP, Taft now not only brings kids to the colleges but the colleges to them through fairs and the like. Its involvement in the school's ability to promote secondary education hardly stops there, however. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is intent on encouraging young people to start planning for college in middle school by focusing on helping underserved students prepare for college and gain access to financial aid. “It provides the financial  resources and the extra support for us to connect high school kids to college and how to get the most out of our kids to pursue secondary education,” Taft counselor Vicky Roller said.

The annual grant is just part of the organization’s contribution to Taft, Smith, the school’s GEAR UP coordinator, said. Approximately $100,000 has been awarded for technological advances at a school that had outdated computers and lacked numerous modern advancements. “The kids were technologically savvy but with floppy discs and no thumb drives they couldn’t even save their work,” she said. In addition to staging internship and summer school programs, proficiency-based classes and family nights, GEAR UP money has helped Taft create a more professional-looking, college-themed counseling center with things as simple as school banners. “The students just get exposed to the education and that college language from the seventh grade on so they learn about things like subsidized loans,” Roller said. “They start to learn the different language that you wouldn’t know otherwise.”

A sister of the umbrella program, Access to Student Assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone (ASPIRE) also helps students transition to college. ASPIRE is a program that matches supportive mentors with students to develop a plan to help them meet their education goals. Volunteer adults pair with students who may not have the good fortune to have someone to help them figure out what to do after high school. They make them aware of the education and training options available. For further information on GEAR UP and its offerings, go to For further information on financial assistance, visit the Oregon Student Access Commission (OSAC) website at

© Copyright 2012, The News Guard, Lincoln City, OR.