Three local school districts are among 15 counties statewide that will benefit from the more than $11 million in funding to help prepare students for college announced last week.
Bradley, Meigs and Polk counties are all recipients of GEAR UP TN College Readiness Grants, federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education that is administered through the Tennessee High Education Commission.
BRADLEY COUNTY SCHOOLS
› Amount Received: $948,230
› Schools Selected: Bradley Central High School and Lake Forest Middle School
› Partners: Cleveland State Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, Lee University, Bradley/Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Manufactures Association, Cormetech Inc., Wacker, DENSO, Cleveland Bradley County Teachers Public Education Foundation
MEIGS COUNTY SCHOOLS
› Amount Received: $609,263
› Schools Selected: Meigs High School and Meigs Middle School
› Partners: Cleveland State Community College, Roane State Community College, Bryan College, Tennessee Wesleyan University, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, city of Decatur, Meigs County Mayor’s Office, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, SouthEast Bank and Tennessee River Machine Works
POLK COUNTY SCHOOLS
› Amount Received: $867,210
› Schools Selected: Polk County High School, Copper Basin High School and Chilhowee Middle School
› Partners: Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland State Community College, Lee University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, Pathways Southeast TN
Locally, students have benefited from the program, which in Hamilton County is a partnership between the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Hamilton County Department of Education, for almost two decades.
GEAR UP focuses on providing students from underserved communities with after-school programs, summer camps, college visits and mentors for the students, to give them a leg up on success in school and to help prepare them for college, from the time they are in sixth grade until high school graduation.
"We are extremely excited about receiving this grant. We have seen the impact that GEAR UP TN can have on the college-going culture within our schools and have truly benefited from that," said Carmen Choat, Meigs County Schools' secondary supervisor and director of college and career access, in a statement. "We are looking forward to expanding our college and career access services to increase our students' readiness and improve their opportunities for post-secondary success. It is our ultimate goal that all of our students graduate college and career ready."
The 15 communities selected by the state participated in a competitive application process. Most communities form a GEAR UP TN Collaborative when they receive the grants that includes formal partnerships with at least one middle school, one high school, a higher education institution, a local school board and two community-based organizations.
"I'm so excited to receive this grant because it directly correlates to our district goal of helping students have more success in life after they graduate high school," said Jason Bell, Polk County Schools' secondary supervisor, in a statement.
In each of the districts, students now in seventh grade — the class of 2023 — will form the selected cohort that will be tracked and receive services throughout the entire life of the six-year grant.
This is Tennessee's third GEAR UP grant cycle, the first began in 2005. Recipients of the first grant saw a 22.8 percent increase in college attendance rates of students in nine rural school districts selected, according to the state Department of Education.
Meigs County Schools was one of the districts selected in 2005. This year's awards are a first for Polk County Schools, though Bradley County has had previous GEAR UP programs.
"GEAR UP TN allows Bradley County Schools to provide more chances to develop our greatest asset — our students. The program focuses on providing explicit learning opportunities for students and prepares them for success at the next level of college and career choices," said Linda Cash, director of schools for Bradley County Schools, in a statement. "Students develop skills, knowledge and talent that will propel them to future success. In turn, the students are better prepared to become great citizens that strengthen our workforce and economy."
Bradley received $948,230, Meigs received $609,263 and Polk received $867,210. Hamilton County's program, which receives funding straight from the federal government, is up for renewal later this year. UTC is seeking $5 million for the program — those grant recipients will be announced this fall.
"We are thrilled to work closely with these 15 communities through the GEAR UP TN grant," said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, in a statement. "Each of these communities brings a willingness and readiness to innovate and work relentlessly to ensure their students are ready to succeed in college."
This year's grant awards will fund services in 32 middle schools and 18 high schools statewide, ensuring more than 23,000 middle and high school students benefit from the program through 2024, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.