Lacking a strong role model, Hector Araujo’s community told him that an education was not necessary to be successful. He spent his life running races; the only problem is, this race would have led him into the criminal justice system.
That changed, though, when Emily Johnson — a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Coordinator from Boise, Idaho — transplanted herself into Hector’s school. He was awe-struck when he found that someone believed in him.
“She has been the greatest factor in my life,” Hector said on stage at the 2014 Building a GradNation Summit hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, before introducing Secretary Arne Duncan. “What is [most] important is that there are people in your life that are going to support you and nurture you to achieve the dreams that God has put in your heart.”
Today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing the availability of $75 million for two new Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) competitions. The aim of this year’s GEAR UP competition is to improve college fit and readiness, so all students graduate from high school prepared for college without needing remedial courses – a problem for millions of beginning college students each year – and enroll in an institution that will help them maximize their success. This follows up on a commitment the Department made at the White House College Opportunity summit in January to help students achieve the necessary milestones that provide a pathway to college success.
This year’s competition also focuses on projects that are designed to serve and coordinate with a Promise Zone, which are high-poverty communities where the federal government has partnered and invested to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, and improve public safety. This year’s GEAR UP program also places a priority on helping to improve students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors, including academic mindset, perseverance, motivation, and mastery of social and emotional skills that improve student success.
Thanks to the GEAR UP grant program, Hector was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and is now pursuing his masters in higher education at the University of Arizona. He wanted to pursue a career in education because of the powerful feeling gained when helping America’s students — especially those who may lack exposure to higher education opportunities. Hector wrote in his GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy biography that “it is critical to let youth know that they are important, beautiful and capable of achieving anything.”
Secretary Duncan agrees. “We have to make sure all of our young people — all of them — have the kind of education that truly prepares them for that future,” he said at this year’s Building a GradNation Summit, adding, “We have to redouble our efforts for those who aren’t even making it to the starting line. Because high school graduation may once have been the finish line, but now it’s the beginning.”
GEAR UP grants currently fund 87 programs across the country that serves approximately 420,000 middle and high school students who often come from historically underserved backgrounds. This program offers the federal government, states, nonprofits, districts and schools an opportunity to partner together to increase these students’ chances for success.
Michael Lotspeich is an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a junior at the University of Illinois-Springfield.