City Of Waterbury and NVCC “Gear Up” for $11.2 Million Seven-Year Education Grant
(WATERBURY, CT) - The city of Waterbury will receive $11.2 million over seven years from the State of Connecticut to help prepare middle and high school students for post-secondary education, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced on Thursday, May 3. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally-funded discretionary grant program designed to significantly increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college.
“This is a potentially radical change to the ‘way of life’ for thousands of Waterbury’s middle school students,” said Mayor Neil M. O’Leary. “For far too long, our youth have not been able to access the tools and inside track to achieve the dream of every teenager --access to a college education. With this grant and with thanks to the U.S. Department of Education and Governor Malloy, Waterbury can now prioritize and assure our students get every conceivable opportunity to become responsible, college-ready, productive adults. Our youth are our future, so every effort and initiative we make will pay dividends.”
“This grant award is wonderful news for Waterbury,” said Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Ouellette. “Improving the high school graduation rate is both a national and a local priority. Of most significance is the critical need to assure that students graduating from our high schools are prepared to be successful in college and careers. The GEAR UP Grant is designed to accomplish that. Planned GEAR UP activities will help students to develop the skills they will need to achieve their higher education goals. We look forward to working together with Naugatuck Valley Community College."
Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) will serve as fiduciary for Waterbury and administer the grant through its Bridge to College Office. The program will be modeled after the existing NVCC Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation (ConnCAP) program, which has served Waterbury’s first-generation college/ low-income high school students since 1987 with a comprehensive high school graduation rate of 99% and college matriculation rate of 90%.
While ConnCAP serves high school students, GEAR UP will begin providing academic support to students in sixth and seventh grade and continue guiding them through high school graduation. The goals are to provide early intervention, a seamless diagnostic test system, academic advising and academic and social support to increase the likelihood of middle school, high school and college completion.
“I am delighted to have NVCC partner with our colleagues in middle schools in support of the communities we all serve,” said Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D., president of Naugatuck Valley Community College. My dearest wish is to help more students take algebra in the eighth grade, which gives them a much greater likelihood of going to and graduating from college. NVCC continues to find meaningful ways to contribute to and collaborate with the public school system, and this is a source of encouragement and pride for us.”
According to NVCC research, over 75% of students matriculating to the College test into remedial courses, indicating disconnect between the requirements for high school graduation and the skills required to successfully navigate college-level course work. Studies further show that the disparity of achievement in mathematics begins to expand significantly at the middle school level.
Based on the yearly results from the state-wide standardized test, the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test, Waterbury Public Schools are consistently regarded as “not making adequate yearly progress” by the Connecticut Department of Education. According to the 2008-2009 Strategic School Profile, the cumulative four-year dropout rate for the class of 2008 in the Waterbury District was 7.0% of those who remained in school and graduated compared to a state rate of 6.6%.
GEAR UP will be offered to all sixth and seventh grade students at North End Middle School, Wallace Middle School and West Side Middle School, approximately 2550 students total, to develop academic and social support and college expectations. The students will continue in the program over the course of the seven-year grant to high school graduation.
The grant will fund a full-time program coordinator, three full-time on-site academic advisors for each middle school, part-time teacher advisors to coordinate after-school programs and mentors/tutors to assist. The program will also be aided by NVCC-Waterbury AmeriCorps volunteer mentors.
Each year, students will take the Accuplacer diagnostic tests to gage reading comprehension, sentence skills and arithmetic and elementary algebra units and detect academic needs. Based on the results, each student will work one-on-one with an academic advisor to establish an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for advising, mentoring and guidance toward college and career goals. Students will retake the Accuplacer at the end of each school year to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.
“We hope to change the overall atmosphere in the middle schools from one where this is limited academic guidance and advising available to one where every child can expect to do well and be college-ready,” said Janis Petrillo, director of the NVCC Bridge to College Office. “Students will have access during and after school to academic advisors, tutors and mentors who will encourage, guide and challenge them to reach their full potential. When students need help, GEAR UP staff will be in the schools to assist the guidance counselors and teachers. ”
Based on students’ academic year performance, 600 out of the 2550 students in the original cohort will be invited to accept “scholarships” to attend the five-week GEAR UP summer component where they will take English, math and science in the morning and participate in a work-based learning project in the afternoon. The Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board (WIB) has also pledged to provide eligible participants with priority admission for summer youth work experience as well as work readiness/career skills training workshops. One day per week, the students will visit the NVCC campus for cultural, academic or social enrichment activities.
In the eleventh grade students will be expected to enroll in a minimum of 3 credits at NVCC per semester resulting in high school seniors graduating with a minimum of 12 earned college credits.
If the project is successful, the City and College hope to permanently change the methodology for determining students’ proficiencies in literacy and math and ultimately reduce the need for remediation in college.
“I think parents and teachers would agree that our students are tested enough,” said Petrillo. “Our focus is on determining remediation needs early and giving students adequate support and direction to overcome them. We want students to see college as a realistic goal in middle school and give them the confidence and preparation they need to not only get there, but succeed.”
Total GEAR UP funding for Connecticut is $31.5 million with federal funds accounting for 42% of the total program budget and non-governmental funds amassing 3.3% of the total budget, or $2.5 million. Manchester Community College will also receive funding to work with East Hartford schools. Southern Connecticut State University will receive funding to work with students in New Haven. A press event is being planned for early June.