More than 200 higher education leaders and public school educators gathered to learn more about college readiness and academic preparation today during Oklahoma’s third annual Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) State Conference.
Hosted by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the conference was held at Quartz Mountain Lodge in Lone Wolf and was designed to help participants learn innovative approaches for student and program success as well as discuss specific strategies local schools could 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 scholarships, academic preparation programs and college awareness activities for students and their parents.
Additionally, 11 Oklahoma school districts and three Oklahoma colleges received more than $36.2 million in partnership grants over five years to expand statewide preparation activities locally.
Throughout the past three years, GEAR UP has helped Oklahoma schools move aggressively in expanding the range of programs and services offered to upper elementary, middle and high school students to better prepare them for college.
During a luncheon address, Chancellor Hans Brisch commended all the educators who work so diligently with Oklahoma’s young people through GEAR UP. Also, he discussed how college preparation and GEAR UP can affect the future prosperity of this state.
”GEAR UP is key to the success of the Regents' Brain Gain 2010 initiative to increase the number of Oklahomans with a college degree," said Brisch. “You – all of you – are contributing now to future economic prosperity of our state while also contributing to the future economic prosperity of the smiling faces sitting in your classrooms today.”
There is no challenge to us as educators, citizens and parents that is more urgent than creating an educational environment that supports student success,” he said. "We are encouraged by the efforts of everyone associated with GEAR UP and will continue to pursue the common goal of each and every Oklahoma student having a better chance to succeed, not only in college, but in the future they want and expect for themselves.”
Earlier that day, the conference opened with a Native American ceremony led by Choctaw Princess Reannon Frazier. She was followed by Dr. Kevin E. Jacobs, president of the Christian Leadership Foundation of Oklahoma City, who offered the keynote presentation. Jacobs discussed the importance of uniting the faith communities with schools and public leadership in addressing the needs of students and their families in Oklahoma.
Throughout the day, concurrent sessions were held covering a variety of issues designed to strengthen and support the 90 district-level GEAR UP programs. Topics included: college and university visits; developing innovative college and community academic and career experiences; progressive reading and writing projects; student teaching; developing a summer academy; curriculum alignment; raising achievement through setting high student expectations; promoting student success in an urban environment; college, public school and community collaboration activities; and building a smaller learning community.
Other sessions featured: using robots to teach science, math and engineering skills; successful mentoring programs; organizational techniques; counseling diverse populations; first day celebrations; tips for teachers as advisors; modulated algebra; improving ACT scores; working with volunteers; proper student guidance and advisement; community partnerships with Native American tribes; working with higher education institutions; and helping students make the transition from middle school to high school.
GEAR UP provides Oklahoma public schools support that helps district-level educators and administrators better assess their needs in curriculum, professional development and parental involvement as well as implement strategies to improve performance in these areas that are commonly problematic.
“Oklahoma higher education is committed to supporting K-12 schools’ efforts in educating and producing college-ready students,” Brisch said. “In addition, we are just as committed to seeking community and federal partnerships to aid our efforts. 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.”
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.