Officials announce GearUp scholarship

Seventh graders at a dozen middle schools in New Haven, Waterbury and East Hartford will benefit from a new scholarship and college preparatory program announced Wednesday called GearUp.
Seventh graders at a dozen middle schools in New Haven, Waterbury and East Hartford will benefit from a new scholarship and college preparatory program announced Wednesday called GearUp. Photo by Monica Disare.

In his seventh-grade class at King-Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School, Kevin Miles’s favorite class is math, where he is learning how to do parentheses, division and fractions. He wants to go to college, and then play in the NBA.

“This year I’m going to learn more about writing skills and math skills and I’m going to know bigger words for reading,” Miles said. “I don’t know what college to go to, but I heard it’s going to be a lot of money.”

On Wednesday, Miles learned about a program that puts him one step closer to his goals. Before heading home to finish his homework and play some basketball, Miles and his classmates sat in an auditorium and listened to Mayor John DeStefano Jr., his principal and the President of Southern Connecticut State University talk about how they are going to get him through college.

Along with 3,000 other seventh graders across 12 different middle schools in New Haven, East Hartford and Waterbury, Miles will have the chance to participate in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program, or GearUp, a new college preparatory and scholarship initiative. DeStefano, assistant superintendent of schools Imma Canelli and other political and education officials announced the program today before the King-Robinson School’s seventh graders, many of whom would otherwise face daunting financial constraints when deciding whether to pursue higher education.

“How many of you plan to go to college?” asked SCSU multicultural affairs director Aaron Washington. Most students slowly raised their hands.

“Now, how many of you understand that it’s going to cost a lot of money to go to college?” he added. Everyone’s hands shot up.

Funded by a $31.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, GearUp will offer college preparatory services as well as scholarships to students who graduate from high school and are accepted to college. GearUp will be run jointly by the New Haven Public Schools, SCSU and the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education.

“There is no better economic development or violence reduction strategy than investing in the education of our young people,” DeStefano said. “Our city cannot grow and our families will not thrive unless every student has the opportunity to succeed in college. GearUp is a powerful complement to New Haven Promise and the work of Promise Partnership and CollegeCorps to grow a college-going culture throughout New Haven.”

Of the $31.5 million grant, $15.5 million will be saved for college scholarships for students who graduate from high school, averaging out to around $4,200 or $4,500 dollars per student if every student currently enrolled in the program successfully completes it, according to New Haven public schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith.

Along the way, SCSU students will mentor and tutor students in the program at least once a week, said Sousan Arafeh, an SCSU professor and the co-principal investigator for GearUp. Students will also have access to a five-week “GearUp-New Haven summer program” and will be taken on college trips, she added.

The goal is to push children toward higher education from an earlier age.

“We talk about preparing children for college,” said Nadine Gannon, the principal of King-Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School. “But when you talk about high school, it’s too late,”

If students receive free tuition through the New Haven Promise, the Yale-funded college scholarship program launched in fall 2010, GearUp will fund room and board or textbook expenses, administrators said. GearUp scholarships will be accepted at all schools across the country, whereas New Haven Promise scholarships apply only to in-state institutions.

Funds from the Department of Education represent about 42 percent of the total program budget, and about 3 percent — $2.5 million — comes from private sources.

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