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GEAR-UP gains major grant renewal

By : By Rachel Coker

Binghamton’s GEAR-UP program has won a new six-year, $3.3 million grant, ensuring that hundreds of additional children will benefit from its focus on preparation for and awareness of higher education.

It’s a major achievement for those involved with GEAR-UP, who weren’t sure they’d even have a program to run this year. The original federal budget did not include any funding for the initiative, and word that the grant had been awarded did not come until late August.

“There was a point when we thought we were not going to be here,” said Idalmis Batista-Blair, GEAR-UP director. Binghamton University received its first five-year GEAR-UP grant in 1999. It was extended for one year so the program could see its original group of Binghamton City School District seventh-graders through to graduation. The program begins with the premise that students need to start thinking about college in middle school so they take the appropriate courses and so their parents can plan financially.

The original idea was to work with children beginning in seventh grade and then follow them through high school. Each year, a new group of seventh-graders would join. This summer, the Binghamton program was working with more than 2,300 children in grades seven through 12.

The new grant calls for a more intensive focus on a smaller cohort of children. The program will work with about 1,000 students in sixth and seventh grades this year, and then follow just that group through high school.

Organizers expect it will be easier to collect data, conduct early intervention and track results with a smaller group. They haven’t crunched all the numbers for their first group yet, but they say anecdotal evidence shows the program is helping to keep students in school and prepare for college.

There had been 13 GEAR-UP pro-grams in New York State; there are now just five, with Binghamton’s pro-gram one of only two upstate. About 150 University students volunteer with the program each semester, and it also offers an ideal venue for education students to do their fieldwork, said Heather Sheridan-Thomas, GEAR-UP principal investigator.

“Our labs are in the community,” said Robert Carpenter, interim dean of the School of Education and Human Development. “You need to nurture and build relationships.”

GEAR-UP offers an array of activities for students, professional development for teachers and programs for parents.

“This is a holistic approach to edu-cation,” Batista-Blair said. Among the programs that will be offered under the new grant are:

• After-school programs at East and West middle schools. On Wednesday afternoons, a Diversity Café at each school will offer homework help as well as enrichment programs. East Middle School will offer additional after-school homework help on Mon-days, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Mentoring and tutoring during class, at lunch and after school. • Trips to the Binghamton University campus. • Summer service learning experiences.

East Middle School Principal Michael O’Branski said the program has had a tremendous impact on students there.

“The biggest thing that I’ve seen is that it’s given our students exposure to college,” he said. “It opens up possibil-ities for kids that ‘Yes, I can make it to college.’ I think that’s huge for our kids.” He noted that the program benefits everyone involved: Teachers get some extra help, the younger students gain role models and the University students get some career-oriented experience and feel that they’ve made an important contribution to the community. “It’s been nothing but positive for our staff and for our kids,” O’Branski said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08