Hosted by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the two-day conference at the Oklahoma City Myriad Convention Center supports U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley's America Goes Back to School Initiative, a national program that encourages parent and community support in local schools. The GEAR UP conference is designed to help participants learn innovative approaches for student and program success as well as discuss specific strategies local schools can use to help students achieve their potential through the GEAR UP initiative.
GEAR UP is a federal program designed to help middle and high school students better prepare for college. In August 1999, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Oklahoma a five-year grant totaling $20.5 million to implement GEAR UP activities across the state, including college preparation and awareness programs for students and parents and scholarships.
Additionally, nine Oklahoma school districts and East Central University in Ada received $23.5 million in partnership grants over five years to expand statewide preparation activities locally.
"Through GEAR UP, Oklahoma was afforded an unprecedented opportunity to take a giant leap forward in expanding the range of programs and services we can offer our upper elementary, middle and high school students," said Chancellor Hans Brisch.
"It has been exciting to see GEAR UP take root and engage and challenge all of us involved in the program to push the envelope of creativity and innovation to help our students be the best they can be," Brisch said. "This conference is both a celebration of what we have accomplished and a call to expand our efforts so we can continue the powerful momentum that we have created."
During the first session of the conference, parents and public school teachers, counselors and administrators representing 30 Oklahoma school districts serving as GEAR UP focus districts during the first phase of the statewide program will describe ways to involve the whole school in local strategies that lead to success in college.
"We are pleased to offer a forum where parents and education officials from all across the state can sit down and talk about specific ways we can help our students achieve their potential," Brisch said. "It is only by working together that we can begin to knock down the various barriers to student success and help more of our students accomplish their educational and professional goals."
During a "Celebration of Student Success" keynote dinner address, state and national leaders will share their vision for student success and show how GEAR UP supports the national vision.
Keynote speaker Allen Schmieder, Ph.D., vice president of JDL Technologies, a Minnesota-based company specializing in school networking, will discuss the importance of ensuring our schools have a world-class technology infrastructure and know how to effectively use new technologies in instruction and management. Also making comments will be Brisch and Sally H. Cain, Ph.D., regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education.
Also during the conference, Rafael Ramirez, GEAR UP senior policy advisor, U.S. Department of Education, will discuss GEAR UP's impact on students nationally after year one of the program. Oklahoma GEAR UP officials, led by Dolores Mize, Ph.D., state director, will then highlight the results of Oklahoma's initiative.
Additionally, concurrent sessions for current and prospective GEAR UP school districts will be held to discuss the benefits and challenges of strategies local school districts have implemented to help students better prepare for college.
"An important part of this conference is to look at what has been accomplished over the last year, how successful strategies can be duplicated statewide and how challenge areas can be addressed," said State Regents Chairman Leonard J. Eaton Jr. "What makes this process even more beneficial is that all interested parties, education leaders and parents, will be at the table."
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.