GEAR-UP program helping county education make strides

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Caroline Howey

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series from Caroline Howey, an intern for the Lancaster County Partners for Youth Foundation.

College students and their families know how expensive college is. Some families in Lancaster County simply cannot afford to send their children to college.
A few years ago, the Lancaster County School District was awarded a grant entitled GEAR-UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The programs have many initiatives designed to help students excel academically and get interested in attending college.
Lancaster County Partners for Youth and the Springs Close Foundation help fund scholarships at Andrew Jackson High School and Lancaster High School for the class of 2014, which helps make college more affordable for these students and their families.
Before working with the class of 2014 at Andrew Jackson High and Lancaster High schools, the GEAR-UP program also helped provide assistance to the class of 2011 at the two county schools.
A GEAR-UP report in 2011 indicated that the program was very effective at helping students achieve greater academic success. According to the report, the GEAR-UP program helped students in the 2011 cohort improve their grades by working with their high schools to implement tutoring services before and after school by certified teaching staff for four days each week.
After learning that one of the high schools had seen deficits in its students’ reading comprehension and ability to write effectively, GEAR-UP staff helped implement a writing center where students were provided with concise writing skill assessments and other strategies. The writing center helped decrease the percentage of students scoring below basic on state assessments for English language arts from 21.5 percent in 2009 to 16 percent in 2010.
Great Choices
The GEAR-UP program and the targeted schools also worked together to help students learn more about postsecondary education through the program’s Great Choices curriculum, which gave students the opportunity to discuss college and career choices with teachers and GEAR-UP staff.
They also held seminars where college professionals from the University of South Carolina Lancaster and York Technical College spoke to students and their families about the college application process. The program also invited students and their families to tour various universities and colleges in South Carolina.
According to the 2011 report, the most successful aspect of the GEAR-UP program is its scholarship program, which is funded and administered by Lancaster County Partners for Youth. The foundation awarded scholarships to 333 students with awards totaling $600,000.
The GEAR-UP staff also worked with the Prevention Coalition, Carol White Get Fit program and Alcohol Prevention program to provide students from the 2011 cohort with services in college access and substance abuse prevention so students could make wise choices both inside and outside the classroom.
The report also showed that the GEAR-UP program, along with teachers at Andrew Jackson and Lancaster high schools succeeded at increasing students’ passage rate on end-of-course tests by 2.3 percent.
The targeted schools also saw a decrease in their retention rates from 10.5 percent in 2005 to 4.15 percent in 2011 and reduced their dropout rates from 5.95 percent in 2005 to 3.2 percent in 2011. Perhaps one of the GEAR-UP program’s major accomplishments was that 89 percent of the students in the 2011 cohort indicated that they were planning to attend college.
Even though the GEAR-UP program only worked with the class of 2011 at Andrew Jackson and Lancaster high schools, due to federal funding, and is working with students in the 2014 class at these two schools, its involvement with these two classes at these two schools is helping Lancaster County make great strides in its education sector – something that can make all of our community’s residents proud.

Caroline Howey is an intern with Lancaster County Partners for Youth Foundation