LAWRENCE — In partnership with Topeka Public Schools, University of Kansas researchers from the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) in the Achievement & Assessment Institute this spring began a seven-year, $2.24 million project to serve 720 students in the high school graduating classes of 2020 and 2021; these students currently are sixth- and seventh-graders at Chase and Eisenhower middle schools, and they will eventually matriculate to Highland Park High School.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) employs intensive, hands-on efforts to transform youths from disadvantaged backgrounds — low-income households, first-generation students and students with disabilities — into college success stories. They start with students in middle school, following cohorts of sixth- and seventh-graders through high school and their freshman years of college. The goal is to encourage and empower students and their parents, teach personal resilience and change the climates of their schools prepare them for college.
The GEAR UP grant for the Highland Park area of USD 501 middle and high schools provides $320,000 a year for seven years. Director Tonya Waller brings 10 years of experience in CEOP’s Kansas City, Kansas, GEAR UP programs; she is assisted by Site Coordinator Dalton Allen. Already, the KU team has developed a partnership with Washburn University’s education department that provides pre-service educators as dedicated, academic day tutors in core classes that do not have a paraprofessional or co-teacher.
“We work closely with the school principals, as well as district lead teachers, and liaisons in math, English, science and social studies,” Waller said. “The primary focus is student support. Our GEAR UP initiatives aim to nurture students’ development, curiosity and social and academic skill sets to foster expectations of learning beyond high school.”
On May 18 at Eisenhower Middle School, GEAR UP Highland Park Cluster held its kickoff celebration with an all-school assembly and keynote address from Carlos Ojeda Jr., CEO of Cool Speak. Ojeda encouraged students to embrace the power to determine their own destinies, then presented a “Jeopardy”-style game show called ThinkFast that mixed pop-culture trivia with math, science, literature and college knowledge. Ojeda returned in the evening for a family event focused on the importance of parental participation and influence in student success; the event drew more than 100 guests from 32 families.
CEOP and USD 501 have a longstanding and fruitful relationship, Waller said, noting several programs that serve Topeka students, including TRIO Upward Bound, TRIO Upward Bound Math & Science, TRIO Educational Opportunity Centers and Harvest of Hope Leadership Academy.
“We believe GEAR UP Highland Park Cluster will build on that strong partnership,” Waller said. “Our objectives include improved academic performance, more rigorous curriculum such as college advanced- placement classes, increased postsecondary enrollment and raised expectations for achievement among students, parents and teachers. We aim to build more of a college-bound culture in these schools.”
About the Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI)
AAI is the umbrella organization for four specialized research centers at the University of Kansas, including CEOP, which supports a wide spectrum of learners and provides educational information, counseling, academic instruction, tutoring, assistance in applying for financial aid and supportive encouragement to both students and their families. Programs help students overcome academic, economic, social, and cultural barriers to higher education. CEOP programs serve students at the University of Kansas, and youth and adults in the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City areas. CEOP partners with more than 70 community agencies and schools in the state, including school districts in Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as the Kansas City, Kansas, Housing Authority, the Kansas City Career Center, the KU Center for Research on Learning and the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth.
AAI’s other research centers are Agile Technology Solutions, the Center for Public Partnerships & Research and the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation. In all, AAI employs about 350 professionals, all committed to building partnerships, products, and programs in educational practice, assessment and evaluation. These initiatives benefit children, adults, communities and publicly funded agencies at the local, state and national levels.
About Topeka Public Schools
Topeka Public Schools is located in the capital city of Kansas and the home of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education. Topeka Public Schools is a diversified urban district and the sixth-largest school district in Kansas with 14,000 students and 2,500 employees. The school district has 29 schools, including two magnet schools, three signature schools and the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers. The school district's Kanza Education and Science Park features Education Station, the Westar Energy Education Center and a 100-kilowatt wind turbine, the result of a partnership with the state’s largest utility company. The largest urban prairie in the U.S. is also part of the Kanza Education and Science Park, making it a destination for learning. Topeka Public Schools is living its mission everyday to engage, prepare and inspire students. For more information, please visit www.topekapublicschools.net.
Achievement & Assessment Institute
The University of Kansas
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