Ponca City Schools will serve as the ribbon-cutting school district for the Oklahoma GEAR UP program, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education announced recently.
Last August, Oklahoma was awarded a five-year federal grant totaling $20.5 million through Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) to better prepare students, especially those from low-income families, for college.
As the ribbon-cutting district, Ponca City will help the State Regents develop student preparation programs and services for eventual implementation in 180 school districts statewide.
Through Oklahoma GEAR UP, 30 Oklahoma school districts will be invited to participate as focus schools each year. These focus schools will represent districts in various parts of the state that have high participation in the free and reduced lunch program and a proven commitment to student preparation.
In addition to Ponca City, 29 other school districts will be selected this year. They will be announced at the State Regents meeting in February 2000.
"We are excited that the Ponca City School District has agreed to pilot new student preparation programs and services that will benefit thousands of students across our state," said Chancellor Hans Brisch. "Through the work with Ponca City Schools, Oklahoma GEAR UP will be in a good position to expand opportunities for student success both in college and the workplace."
As focus schools, Ponca City and the other the participating school districts will conduct a needs assessment to identify gaps and weaknesses in district services designed to prepare seventh through 12th grade students academically and financially for college.
The focus schools will use the results from the assessment to tailor a plan for implementing GEAR UP services that will fill those gaps.
GEAR UP staff will work directly with the schools to help implement the new programs and services. Additionally, focus schools will be eligible to receive numerous free programs provided by Oklahoma GEAR UP partners, organizations that are donating funds and programs to the GEAR UP initiative. The schools will also receive $18,000 in direct funding to support fee-based services provided through the program.
"GEAR UP builds on Oklahoma's existing programs to close the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' by making additional educational opportunities available to students, regardless of where they live, their gender or their ethnic background," said State Regents Chairman Bill W. Burgess Jr. "It has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of our young people."
The federal GEAR UP program was established by Congress last year to fund partnerships between colleges and universities, middle schools, community-based organizations and businesses to prepare low-income students for college.
In addition to the readiness component mentioned above, the Oklahoma GEAR UP program will support two other components that will target the entire state:
Oklahoma's statewide GEAR UP grant has been matched by more than $25 million from state and partner resources. With funds totaling $45.5 million, GEAR UP receives 45 percent of total funding from the federal government and 55 percent from other organizations.