The UConn/Hartford GEAR UP Partnership project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, has provided intensive services for students from middle school through high school. Now in its seventh and final year, the project has involved faculty and students from the School of Family Studies and the Neag School of Education in an integrative approach to helping youth in Hartford’s public schools to succeed academically and gain admission to post-secondary education.
Gear Up Brochure cover.GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Progams) is a federal initiative begun in 1999 to help underserved youth in communities around the country to reach their full educational potential. The UConn/Hartford project has worked with two cohorts of students from the Batchelder School, starting when they were in sixth and seventh grade and following them through high school. The GEAR UP project has succeeded in making dramatic changes in the rates of success in school and acceptance to post-secondary education through building supportive relationships with students and their families, helping students meet specific academic and social challenges, and bringing the world of college into their lives as an available option. Of the older cohort, 85% graduated four years later, in June 2005. Of those who graduated, 35% continued on to post-secondary education. Three of these students are now enrolled at UConn.
GEAR UP has helped not only Hartford youth but also the UConn faculty and students who have worked with them. Many undergraduates from Family Studies, the Neag School of Education, and other parts of UConn have participated in GEAR UP as mentors and tutors.
The First UConn/Hartford GEAR UP project was directed by a team of faculty members led by John Bennett (School of Engineering), with Co-principal Investigators Sara Harkness (School of Family Studies), Kay Norlander-Case, Charles Case, and John Settlage (Neag School of Education). Marcia Hughes, a doctoral student in the School of Family Studies, was the Project Director.
* Harkness, S., Hughes, M., Muller, B., & Super, C. M. (2004). Entering the developmental niche: Mixed methods in an intervention program for inner city children. In T. Weisner (Ed.), Discovering successful pathways in children’s development: New methods in the study of childhood and family life (pp. 329-358). Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.
In fall 2006, with generous funding from the NewAlliance Foundation, a new GEAR UP project was initiated in collaboration with the Batchelder School, a pre-K-8 public school in Hartford, under the direction of Professor Sara Harkness and Professor Charles M. Super. This project is providing opportunities for undergraduate mentors from several departments and graduate students in School Counseling to gain valuable experience working with young people and their families, while also helping the school community to expand its services to children and families. With expert guidance from Professor Maureen Mulroy, a special focus of the new GEAR UP project is family involvement.
In October 2006, Bennett, Harkness, and Hughes were presented with a University Outreach Award, based on this project, for “Interdisciplinary Engaged Scholarship.”
What Students Say About Their GEAR UP Experience
From a UConn Mentor journal during a Summer Program:
Student explaining”Both groups that I hiked with were wonderful, but the second group was sensational. I had never seen a group of students pull together so closely to accomplish a challenge. Every single student was respectful and respected. I kept hearing “Are you O.K.?”, “Step here, it’s easier,” or “Do you want me to carry your bag?”. I could not believe how helpful everybody was. Nobody rushed to the top. We hiked as a team, and we were only as strong as our weakest hiker. At one point one of the girls slipped and hit her head. Everybody sat down and patiently waited. Nobody made fun of one another or said any negative comments…It was an important lesson that the students learned that they cannot do everything alone.”
From UConn Mentor journals during the academic year:
“Denise [not her real name] likes to tell me that she doesn’t need help or she already studied, but she is failing two of her classes…She does realize I am there to help her though, and works with me.”
“I met two new students today…They are very quiet but they had a project on cars for English and they love cars. I love cars too, and we began to talk about them. They definitely opened up more after that. I also talked to Kiomarys and Juan [about] the war in Iraq and that Kiomarys’ brother is in the services. We talked about the people we knew in the services and we exchanged stories. It was very enlightening. One of the girls asked me if I knew French and I said yes and that was it. [The girls] flocked over to ask me how to say phrases like ‘hello’ and ‘I love you.’ We made a list and will try to elongate it as time goes on.”
“I went to see Maria. She admitted to me that she wasn’t going to study and just go to bed instead. We talked then studied her vocab words. By the time I left she knew every word and had a smile on her face.”