After six years of GEAR UP funding and support, it can be a challenge to sustain the level of activities and services offered to students, parents and teachers. Several former GEAR UP coordinators were on hand at the annual SUCCESS Retreat to discuss the keys to keeping the college-going culture alive.
Crystal Parrish from Chiloquin High School, Roger Berger from Hermiston High School and Lisa Shreeve from McKay High School agreed that the following strategies are instrumental in keeping the focus on college readiness:
"GEAR UP has given us a platform to pull together many resources in an attempt to provide better support for our student as they pursue higher education," says Berger, the business education teacher at Hermiston High School. "We have been able to maintain almost all of the projects we started with the help of GEAR UP, although maybe not at the scale we had while still receiving the grant. We are constantly searching for new methods that work, and evaluating those we are currently using."
One of the new methods that has proven successful is a coffee/smoothie business, Java Dawg, which GEAR UP helped support in its initial phases. It is now a course that third-year accounting students operate with the proceeds going to support college going activities. "Java Dawg has been a driving force in maintaining our programs, because it has given us some financial independence for college visits, materials, and general needs," he says.
Melody Bustillos, a counselor at Hermiston High School and the Generation College club advisor, concurs. "College visits have been a priority. We know how important it is for students to be on a campus and to be able to picture themselves there and to see other students from our high school already there and being successful."
Knowing the impact of GEAR UP on school culture and behavior, it is critical that schools embed college preparatory services and activities wherever possible, while maintaining community and educator partnerships. Whether through coffee or collaboration, former GEAR UP schools are continuing to hold high expectations for students - that college is not a dream, it's a plan.