How Arizona GEAR UP is creating a college-going culture in Mohave Valley

Mohave Valley, AZ | Submitted by Diane Beardsley

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Continuing education beyond high school is one of the most effective ways of ensuring a bright future. People with college degrees and professional training are more likely to earn more and less likely to face unemployment, among other benefits. But for students in rural Arizona, it can be challenging to even imagine that you can go to college – let alone understand how to get there.

Thankfully, the Arizona GEAR UP team is working with students in rural communities all over the state. In Mohave Valley, seniors at River Valley High have been working with a GEAR UP coordinator since seventh grade. Following them through junior high and high school, the GEAR UP team works with the student cohort and school team to create an atmosphere centered on college and career readiness. They’ve done everything from career interest inventories to college visits and motivational speakers.

It’s a small school in an economically disadvantaged area. Within the diverse student body, many will be first generation college students and some will even be first generation high school graduates. They’re striving to better themselves, but need guidance to do so. That’s where GEAR UP comes in.

To help students understand where they can go and how they can get there, the GEAR UP team has worked with other educators, local businesses, and colleges and universities to host an annual college and career expo. Every October, nearly 100 businesses gather, along with representatives from institutions of higher learning, to answer questions from students all over the community. They’ve even created a scholarship opportunity by gathering sponsorships from participating companies and utilizing all of the funds to help students cover the costs of college.

During that same week, GEAR UP prepares students for the future with courses on everything from mock interviews to creating a personal elevator speech. On college application day, representatives from local schools join together at River Valley High to help seniors complete their applications and prepare for what comes after that.

And to help their group of students develop a taste for helping others, GEAR UP students at River Valley High are serving as mentors to younger students. They help younger peers by tutoring them, preparing them for the transition to high school, and encouraging their higher education ambitions. This mentoring is a great leadership opportunity.

Paired with regular guest speakers, opportunities for internships, and regular GEAR UP activities, the team is opening eyes to what careers are out there and what students need to do to pursue them. But there’s a wide variety of post-high school learning opportunities and not all students will continue on to college. So GEAR UP is sure to include other options in the mix, including military service, technical training, apprenticeship and more. Students who had never considered college before, are now seriously looking at how to get there.

In a state where only half of graduating seniors continue on to postsecondary learning, the work that GEAR UP is doing is helping to move the needle toward the Arizona Education Progress Meter goal of increasing that to 70 percent by the year 2030. This year, every high school senior has applied to at least two postsecondary institutions; a big improvement over previous years. The GEAR UP efforts have been so impactful that the school is planning its first-ever senior signing day to celebrate students declaring their future alma mater. The emphasis on building a college-going culture in the area is paying off and will continue to do so well into the future.

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