WILBURTON — Eastern Oklahoma State College’s GEAR UP program hosted its annual partnership meeting for area school superintendents, principals, counselors and lead teachers. More than 115 met to learn how the college’s $17 million GEAR UP grant will help them prepare students for postsecondary education.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federal initiative to increase the number of low-income students who enter and successfully transition into postsecondary education. In 2017, Eastern received $17,091,200 to help serve students in 39 partner schools.

Eastern’s President Dr. Steve Smith welcomed the participants. GEAR UP Project Director Linda Morgan introduced Eastern administrators in attendance and members of the GEAR UP team. GEAR UP Assistant Project Director Dara Self provided a brief overview of the grant.

In partnership with The Princeton Review, the GEAR UP grant is implementing online tutoring, Tutor.com, for all GEAR UP students. Special guests from The Princeton Review—Senior Executive Director of Educational Partnerships Tanya Walker and Vice President of K-12 Programs Brian Culbreth—addressed the group. They discussed the program’s features, implementation guidelines and reports that will be available to educators. Workshops will be held to train site coordinators at each partner school.

GEAR UP Team members provided reports on various programs and activities in which GEAR UP students participate. Education Coordinator (EC) Rachael Ranallo introduced The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, a curriculum being implemented through monthly meetings with students. EC Bethany Hicks explained the content and importance of one-on-one meetings with each student.

EC Brianna Brassfield spoke about the Individual Career Academic Plan (ICAP) whose implementation is state mandated. GEAR UP team members are available to assist schools in its implementation. EC Tara Martin shared news about GEAR UP–sponsored field trips. Each school takes two trips each academic year—one to visit a college/university and one that is educational/cultural in nature.

Education Coordinators Stephanie Dow and LaDonna Baldwin reported on 2018 summer camps. Eight hundred eighty students attended one of the eight leadership camps held on the Wilburton campus. Camp activities included a college tour, leadership sessions, a community service project, a dance, swimming, presentations and graduation. They invited schools to “stay tuned” for news about the 2019 summer camps.

Education Coordinators Denise Lovell and Leslie Hemphill shared GEAR UP Week celebrations that included workshops with the “YOGOWYPI” (You Only Get Out What You Put In) guy, Bill Cordes, speaking to over 2,000 students. GEAR UP staff spoke to area community organizations and conducted various activities at partner schools.

Morgan reported on the 11th Annual 8th Grade Career & College Expo. Over 1,200 8th grade students attended. One side was filled with career booths and the other, a “Road Trip” that simulated the game of Life. Facilitated by the Paradigm Shift team, the Road Trip proved to be a huge success with students as they navigated “real life experiences” to help them better understand their projected wants, needs and related expenditures.

GEAR UP Professional Development Coordinator John Spiegel offered free professional development workshops for partner schools. Spiegel’s expertise includes Ruby Payne; QPR “Suicide Prevention”; CPR; Motivational Classroom Management; True Colors; Adults Supporting Youth with Challenging Pasts: Love and Logic; 8 Questions to Focus Your Purpose; 9 Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom; and Google Classroom for Beginners.

Spiegel introduced GEAR UP Grant Consultant Eric Batten with Texas Instruments (TI). Batten talked about the recent implementation of the TI Navigator technology into 70 partner math and science classrooms. He explained the dynamic partnership between Eastern’s GEAR UP grant and TI.

Shady Point Superintendent Bruce Gillham shared his experience attending the National Council for Community and Education Partnership (NCCEP) District Leadership Institute as a representative of the grant. McAlester’s Superintendent Randy Hughes also attended the Institute. The ten–month, three workshop commitment will conclude in May 2019.

Morgan reported current In–Kind Match statistics to attendees. For every dollar the US Department of Education provides to the grantees, the grantee must provide a dollar of In-Kind Match in services. Each school received a copy of its commitment and current status.

The GEAR UP—Ignite Belief program is serving current seventh and eighth grade students and will continue throughout high school graduation and college admission. The grant serves 39 partner schools in nine counties, including Antlers; Atoka; Bokoshe; Buffalo Valley; Cameron; Canadian; Clayton; Coalgate; Crowder; Eufaula; Fanshawe; Frink‒Chambers; Haileyville; Harmony; Hartshorne; Howe; Indianola; Keota; Krebs; Lane; LeFlore; McAlester; McCurtain; Moyers; Panama; Panola; Pittsburg; Porum; Poteau; Quinton; Rattan; Savanna; Shady Point; Spiro; Stringtown; Tannehill; Whitesboro; Wilburton; and Wister.

“Every seventh and eighth grade student at our partner schools is eligible to participate in GEAR UP—Ignite Belief. The program is inclusive and completely free for parents and the schools,” Morgan said. “This grant provides a lot of opportunities for students and teachers. We hope to foster long-term change by creating a positive and pervasive culture for learning in our under-resourced schools.”