College & Workforce Readiness Opinion


By Stu Silberman — September 13, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is a guest post submitted by: Dreama Gentry, J.D.; Berea College Executive Director Externally Sponsored Programs:

An attorney by training, I have spent the last 17 years working to improve college access for students from rural Kentucky. I came to this work by accident
and continue because I see the positive impact college access programs have on students, families and schools.

I was born and raised in southeastern Kentucky, and I was the first in my family to attend college. I graduated fromBerea College and went on to receive my law degree from the University of Kentucky. In 1995, after practicing law for a few years, I realized that it was not my passion. I
returned to Berea College to direct a small college access program that partnered the college with Rockcastle County Middle School, a rural Kentucky school.

I had experienced college access programs first-hand and understood their importance and impact. As a high school student, I participated in theKentucky Governor’s Scholars program. As a college student, I served as a tutor counselor in the Berea College Upward Bound program. I was excited to have the opportunity to design and develop the
Berea College Lifting Educational Aspirations Program, an access initiative focused on encouraging middle school students and their families to begin
planning for college. I pulled together professionals who had worked in Upward Bound, Talent Search and local education agencies to get their input and
together we established a strong program.

In 1998, President Clinton signed into law legislation that created the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Initiative. GEAR UP was created to provide communities with a
comprehensive, holistic and research-driven initiative to prepare low-income students for higher education. My college access work with Rockcastle County
was based on the same research and goals as GEAR UP. I worked closely with Rockcastle’s schools to develop and submit a GEAR UP application. We were
successful, and started our GEAR UP work in 1999. We saw a positive impact on student achievement--from 1999 to 2005, we exceeded our objectives on student
achievement and growth. Over a six-year period, the number of students who scored “Proficient” or “Distinguished” on Kentucky’s Commonwealth Accountability
Testing System increased by 17 percent in math and 15 percent in reading. High school graduation rates grew by 10 percent and college enrollment increased
by 13 percent.

In 2004, I re-designed our GEAR UP model based on lessons learned and relevant research and developed a program to serve six rural school districts. We
received funding and began implementing GEAR UP 2005. We again met all our objectives and saw increases in academic achievement.

In 2011, I once again re-designed our GEAR UP program based on the results and feedback we had received. Realizing that we had evidence that GEAR UP works
we scaled up our efforts. We submitted two GEAR UP proposals that, combined, served 19 school districts and more than 15,000 students. We received funding
to implement both programs and our annual GEAR UP funding is now the largest in the nation. We have been able to scale up our GEAR UP effort because the program works.

GEAR UP is not a pull-out program. Each GEAR UP program defines a specific grade level of students that they will work with their cohort. We then provide
services to all students in our cohort for seven years. In our Berea College GEAR UP program we work with all 7th grade students during the first year of
the program. We then continue to provide services to these students until they are Freshmen in college. Research tells us that peers play an important role
in helping students

succeed in college

. Through the GEAR UP cohort approach we have seven years to develop a strong college going culture within a whole grade level of students. GEAR UP
capitalizes on the power of the peer network.

Two weeks ago, we launched GEAR UP for our first cohort, the Class of 2017, with a Pep Rally for High School Graduation and College Going. Imagine this-an
arena filled with 5,000 8th graders all wearing blue Class of 2017 shirts, chanting “I commit not to quit!” Part concert, part pep rally, the
students had the opportunity to see that they are part of a peer group of 5,000 that is committed to high school graduation and attending college . They also realized that there are
teachers, college presidents, musicians, business people, elected officials and college students from across the Commonwealth who are committed to being
with them for the next seven years. The event ended with a promise from us that we would gather again with the students in the spring of 2017 to celebrate
their high school graduation and college acceptance.

This week is National GEAR UP Week. It has been 14 years since GEAR UP was
signed into law. I have experienced the positive impact that GEAR UP can have on students, their families and their schools. I’ve seen GEAR UP grow here in
rural Kentucky from a small partnership between Berea College and one middle school serving 400 students to a large partnership between Berea College,
Eastern Kentucky University and Hazard Community College and 19 school districts serving 15,000 students. I encourage you to learn more about GEAR UP.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Public Engagement & Ed Reform are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion Can College-Going Be Less Risky Without Being 'Free'?
Rick Hess speaks with Peter Samuelson, president of Ardeo Education Solutions, about Ardeo's approach to make paying for college less risky.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.