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December 3, 2003 :: State Regents Name Focus School Districts for GEAR UP

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Twenty-five Oklahoma school districts have been selected to serve as focus districts for year five 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 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 activities, scholarship opportunities and public awareness programs for students and parents.

The selection of 25 new school districts brings the total number of GEAR UP focus districts to 145.

The focus districts will conduct needs assessments to identify gaps and weaknesses in district services designed to prepare seventh- through 12th-grade students both academically and financially for college. The results from the assessments will be used to tailor plans for implementing GEAR UP services that will fill those gaps. Also, 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 services provided by Oklahoma GEAR UP partners, which are 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.

"Through Oklahoma GEAR UP, we are able to help districts tailor programs to meet their students’ specific needs,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser.

Oklahoma school districts have used GEAR UP funding to provide mentoring and tutoring activities, accelerated reading programs, ACT prep courses and software, career exploration tools and advanced placement training. In addition, GEAR UP provides staff development opportunities for teachers, counselors and administrators in a variety of areas such as curriculum enhancement, vertical teaming, working with special populations, data analysis and academic improvement.

The 25 school districts selected for year five of the Oklahoma GEAR UP program 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 is designed to build on Oklahoma’s existing programs to generate more educational programs and services available to all Oklahoma students. The support provided by GEAR UP strengthens local academic offerings, encourages student achievement and augments the relationship between higher education and local schools.

"GEAR UP helps districts create rigorous, diverse and enduring educational opportunities for their students,” said Risser. “GEAR UP generates a beneficial impact on Oklahoma’s classrooms and comes at a time when all public education entities are using every resource to the fullest. We are looking forward to working with the new focus districts.”

The federal GEAR UP program was established by Congress to fund partnerships between colleges and universities, middle schools, community-based organizations and businesses to better prepare students for college.

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.