Tahlequah Public Schools offers students a variety of classes, activities, and programs, and some of them are because of grant programs.
This school year starts the third year of the seven-year GEAR UP grant. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs is a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant program worth over $2.4 million, for which the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education applied. TPS is one of 10 school districts in the state participating.
With the theme of college readiness, GEAR UP offers programs, trainings, resources, and more to teachers, parents, and students in grades 7-12.
“It’s a great program. They’ve done a great job. Their professional development to student training – everything they do is just good,” said Vicki Bush, Tahlequah High School principal. “They’re good programs that really help our students. A lot of this we’ve done, but in different aspects.”
The state objectives for the grant include: increasing students’ academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education; increasing the rate of high school graduation and participation in postsecondary education; and increasing student and family knowledge of postsecondary education options, preparation and financing.
To meet those objectives, the GEAR UP program outlines programs that TPS has begun to implement, including Professional Learning Communities professional development for administrators and teachers, concurrent enrollment, Individual Career and Academic Planning, college tours, and more.
Students will tour area college campuses while in grades 7-9 and 11.
“Every student will have at least four college visits before they get to that point of deciding which college to go to, if that’s the path they are taking,” said Bush. “It’s a true college experience. They get to look around and eat on campus.”
Through GEAR UP, juniors have access to an online ACT preparation course, and Bush has heard of students raising their scores after using it consistently.
Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to help freshmen THS students in a new way this year. Bush said the Link Crew program is sort of a mentorship, and the older students had training to participate.
“We have so many feeder schools that it can be hard for the new students to find where they belong or groups to be in. Plus, the sheer size of the high school, compared to their old school, is incredible,” said Bush. “It’s peers who are checking on them with a positive, caring attitude. It also helps to grow them into leaders and build character.”
New teachers are also getting assistance.
“On Point is for new teachers. It gives them information about academic interventions, student achievement, common assessments, classroom support, observations and tips,” said Bush.
Parents can also get involved, and they can be key players when students are looking forward to going to college.
Bush leads a committee of four parent volunteers, and GEAR UP offers a Parent Leadership Academy.
THS will begin broadcasting video morning announcements next nine-week session, and Bush said those will be shared on district social media platforms. This will let parents and guardians be more aware of what is going on at the school, and deadlines for applications and programs.
Bush said all parents are encouraged to apply for Oklahoma’s Promise and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
“We do this for their sake. They have to complete FAFSA for Oklahoma’s Promise, and it helps with other grants, scholarships and student loans,” said Bush. “A family’s status could change due to divorce or a parent being laid off.”
Oklahoma Promise “allows eighth-, ninth- or 10th-grade students from families with an income of $55,000 or less to earn a college tuition scholarship.” Academic and conduct requirements have to be met while the student is in high school. According to www.osrhe.edu/okpromise, students can earn one of the following: tuition at an Oklahoma public two-year college or four-year university; a portion of tuition at an accredited Oklahoma private college or university; or a portion of tuition for approved programs at Oklahoma public technology centers.
For additional information on GEAR UP, visit okgearup.org, or call the TPS Board of Education at 918-458-4100.