GEAR UP works to close ‘aspiration gap’


Lara Noack

Class of 2024 benefits from program providing trips, support for college dreams

Rudy Morales-Alvarez, Staff Writer

Since 2020, Akins has benefited from a set of on-site mentors who work full-time to support the Class of 2024’s efforts to not only get into college but to be successful when they get there.

These mentors actually started working with these students in 2017 when they were attending middle schools that feed into Akins. It’s all part of a program known as GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. It is a seven-year federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education promoting college readiness and success through multiple strategies and activities.
Every student in the class of 2024, regardless of middle school attended, is considered a part of the GEAR UP program, which at Akins includes all 660 juniors and some additional sophomores and seniors who ask for help from the program.

Lara Noack, the Akins GEAR UP program facilitator, said they serve all kinds of student needs.

“We have students who come in if they need to work on certain assignments for a different class,” she said. “We have students who come in and just want to talk about life. Because schools are so busy, and teachers are so busy sometimes, students have a hard time finding the time to find an adult who they can talk to. I really feel like we’ve created a safe place and a community where students like to come and talk or take a break.”

One of the GEAR UP program’s goals is to “close the college aspiration gap.” This means they start working with students while they are young to help them dream about going to college before time runs out to do the work of applying for college while they are in high school. Their other goals are to improve students’ academic growth, schools’ graduation rates, and students’ college admissions acceptances. The program aims to lead students to have a successful future after high school.

GEAR UP also offers field trips to colleges all over Texas. These trips can be very helpful. Dyamond Powell a junior said the trips have been really helpful to getting her prepared for college.

“At first when I first moved here, I was just like, not about college. I didn’t want to go. Then I started going to GEAR UP and talking to Miss Noack and Mr. Moreno and going to all the college trips and now I’m like, I really want to go to college now.”

Powell said the trips taught her that college can be accessible to her.
“I used to think that college was really hard, like advanced things other than high school but I learned that it’s just like high school, but it’s just a bunch of more kids in one classroom. it’s not as hard as I thought it was.”

The GEAR UP program has motivated many students to strive to reach their potential said junior Kayla Wilkins.

“It just keeps my mind pushing forward,” she said. “Honestly. I just think about what I want my future to be and have to come to the realization of what I need to do to be prepared for it.”

Other students can agree with her as well about GEAR UP pushing them forward.
Junior Josefina Brownlee said it helps to know that there are people at Akins to support her efforts to get to college.

“They’ve done an incredible job of pushing me to be like where I am now and just pushing me harder and harder and helping me in my classes so I can go to college,” she said.
Senior Da’lanesha Adams, who has received help from GEAR UP said she would advise students interested in the program to not be shy about asking for help.

“If you don’t know anything, don’t be shy to adults or anybody,” she said.