Thirty Oklahoma school districts have been selected to serve as focus districts for the first phase of the Oklahoma GEAR UP program, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education announced recently.
Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federal program designed to better prepare students, especially those from low income families, for college. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Oklahoma a five-year grant totaling $20.5 million to implement GEAR UP activities across the state.
The 30 school districts participating as focus districts during the first year 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 results from the assessment will be used to tailor a plan for implementing GEAR UP services that will fill those gaps.
Oklahoma GEAR UP staff will work directly with the schools to help implement the new programs and services. Additionally, the schools will be eligible to receive numerous free programs provided by Oklahoma GEAR UP partners, organizations that have donated more than $25 million in funds and programs to the initiative. Schools will also receive $18,000 in direct funding to support fee-based services provided through the program and to build local capacity to sustain those services over time.
"Thousands of students across Oklahoma will benefit from the opportunities that the Oklahoma GEAR UP program offers,” said Chancellor Hans Brisch. “GEAR UP will help identify student needs and respond with proactive programs that will better prepare students for college and for life after high school."
The 30 school districts participating in the Oklahoma GEAR UP program this year include:
The selected districts represent various regions in Oklahoma that have a high participation rate in the free and reduced school lunch program and a proven commitment to student preparation. Additionally, all school districts meet required federal guidelines and have demonstrated involvement with the State Regents’ Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS), a multi-year education and career preparation system for middle and high school students.
"GEAR UP builds on Oklahoma’s existing programs to make educational programs and services available to all Oklahoma students, regardless of their location or background," said State Regents Chairman Bill W. Burgess Jr. "Approximately 35,205 Oklahoma students in the seventh through 12th grade will be impacted by GEAR UP during the initial phase, and even more students will feel its impact as the program continues."
Regents noted that eventually 180 Oklahoma school districts will be implementing student preparation programs through GEAR UP.
The federal GEAR UP program was established by Congress in 1998 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:
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Oklahoma with a state GEAR UP grant totaling $20.5 million in August 1999. The 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.