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Site Coordinators Share Success Stories in Their Schools

Jeannine Huenemann


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Panel discussion during a campus visit at USU.
Panel discussion during a campus visit at USU.
Clearfield High School visits USU in November 2018.
Clearfield High School visits USU in November 2018.

USU STARS! collaborates with partner schools to provide resources and structure to support a cohort of students starting in 7th grade, and following them through their first year of college. The site coordinator is a local school district employee that works to bridge the gap between the resources that the federal GEAR UP program can provide and the specific needs of each school. Kristin Brubaker, program director for USU STARS!, says of the site coordinators that “they are key to the implementation of GEAR UP. We rely on them to understand their schools and communities, and help us develop customized services to increase engagement and reach grant goals.”

“Site coordinators are a resource to overburdened teachers, supporting them in developing new, engaging curricula and programming and offering professional development opportunities,” says Brubaker. “They are our connection to district administration, helping to ensure the college going culture created through GEAR UP is sustained well beyond the grant.” They wear many hats in the schools they serve. One of the biggest hurdles to filling this role is finding a balance between educating many students through career nights and campus visits, and identifying and addressing individual needs of the students to improve grades, take challenging classes, and apply for and fund college. It is clear from the feedback that we have received from our site coordinators since the start of the school year that everyone has been busy. Here are some highlights from some of the schools we serve:

Jocelyn at American Preparatory Academy (grant 1)

Hosted its very first career fair for 120 students. Career night at their West Valley 2 campus included four community professionals (family physician, film producer, video game programmer, and marketing executive) speaking to students. It was a great opportunity for the students to get to know some of the careers and start planning their college route. At the end of the presentations, the students had the opportunity to speak to the professionals and ask them one-on-one questions. After the event, we saw an increase in students visiting the counseling office seeking more information on computer programming degrees. About 120 students attended this optional event, and have been asking when the next event will happen. Three more career fairs are planned through the rest of the school year.

Michelle at Ephraim Middle School (grant 3)

Supports an active after-school robotics club. The after-school robotics club has been a positive experience at our school. Several students have joined that tend to struggle in class. Our robotics teacher is a student from Snow College and his excitement about robotics has really rubbed off on the kids. This activity has helped our students gain confidence and learn new skills. When asked how it helps the students, robotics teacher Zach Anderson said that "robotics gets kids interested in the engineering process. They have a challenge that they need to find a solution to.”

Samantha at Gunnison Valley Middle School (grant 3)

Changed a student’s mind. During a campus visit to Snow College last February, a seed was planted. On our way there, one student proclaimed, "I'm not going to college." Samantha talked her through it, telling her there were many options and possibilities to no avail. The tour went GREAT! All of our students loved it. On our way home, the same student said, "I'm going to college here."

Lisa at Gunnison Valley High School (grant 1)

Promoted College Application Day. On November 15, seniors were encouraged to apply to colleges at the high school. GEAR UP staff went to many of the students' English classes, and worked individually with the seniors on their applications, especially with those applying to more than one school. Students who were missed in English class, were called down during lunch or advisory period. For a small school, we had a good number of students that not only applied to college, but also applied to multiple schools this year.

Jessica at Logan High School (grant 2)

Campus visit for tenth graders. Students went to Utah State University and Bridgerland Technical College to explore Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways and concurrent enrollment options. Students visited classrooms, including the welding room and automotive bay, and received information about the academic and financial benefits of finishing college classes while in high school. School counselors and a CTE teacher were there to answer questions and provide additional information. The goal was to help tenth graders learn about concurrent enrollment and CTE pathways at a time when they were building their schedules for next year.

Chris at Manti High School (grant 1 & 2)

Promoted the Utah College Application Week and FAFSA night with scholarship. This year, we had over 200 college applications go out. We also had a very successful FAFSA night. We had our school donate $500 for a scholarship to motivate students as well. Chris has a 10th grade student that came to his office to get help improving his grades so that he could play on the basketball team. He didn't make the team, but he has continued getting help, and said that he wants to keep his grades up because he is going to college!

Heather at North Sanpete High School (grant 2)

Transition program helps improve grades. Last year, we implemented a transition program into the high school. GEAR UP supported the creation of the program which we were then able to expand to our entire school. We weren't really sure how our efforts were going to pay off, but after a year of hard work, NSHS students have 177 fewer Fs than at this time last year. Part of our success involved a more concentrated effort to target students who were struggling, pairing them with a support person that monitored their grades, and helped them with their work. Weekly check-in visits with the students reinforced their successes. Many students just stayed after school for tutoring. Other students need more help and were referred to the school's therapist. Student feedback is positive. One student said that he appreciates the care and concern. He has a lot of struggles at home, and feels loved and supported at school, making him want to try harder. This year, Learning Strategies classes have been added to give additional support.

We look forward to hearing more about what is happening at all of our partner schools. Site coordinators are central to the success of school GEAR UP programs. And more than anything, adds Brubaker, “the personal connections that site coordinators make with students and parents often times ends up being the extra push a student needs to consider college as an option for them. We depend on them to help us reach our goals, and they in turn, help their schools, students, and communities.”