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GIPS adds GEAR UP staff as program develops

In October, Grand Island Public Schools announced the $13 million total impact of being awarded a $6 million federal GEAR UP grant. The district is looking forward to the many opportunities for students and families through this grant, as two hired professionals are working on the program.

The GEAR UP PROMISE! (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs; Partners, Resources and Opportunities Matching Individualized Supports and Education) is a discretionary federal grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. GEAR UP will serve the cohort of current sixth and seventh grade students, following them through high school and into their first year of college.

Donna Neeman was hired as the GEAR UP Project Director. In this role, she will oversee the different services and activities the program offers. Student services the program offers are college campus visits, career counseling, summer programs, educational field trips, financial aid counseling, and much more. Students will also get to tour different area businesses and attend different camps at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as part of the program.

Neeman is from Wausa, Nebraska, and previously was the director of TRIO Student Support Services at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. TRIO, similar to GEAR UP, is a federal grant. It includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs.

Neeman said the overall goal of GEAR UP at GIPS is to create a culture of college and career readiness.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the success of the students and how the community will embrace the change over time,” Neeman said. She added that though the grant will serve the current cohort of sixth and seventh grade students, many of the things in the program will be sustainable in helping other students to come.

César Durán was hired as the GEAR UP Site Coordinator. Durán will be splitting his time between Walnut and Barr Middle Schools for the first three years, and then adding Grand Island Senior High when the first cohort enters high school. As site coordinator, Durán will be in charge of coming up with activities and programs at the different schools. He said one new project he will be working on is creating a tutor program for the students in the cohorts.

Durán is originally from San Nicolas de Los Garza, Nuevo Leon Mexico. He graduated from Cozad High School and attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Previously, he was the Diversity and Community Outreach Counselor in the Undergraduate Recruitment & Admissions office at UNK.

“I am excited to meet the students and families,” Durán said. “I want to be able to follow them all the way into their first year after high school and build a connection with them.”

Neeman said the cohort of GEAR UP students will have opportunities this summer through the program. She also said she’s looking forward to September, when National GEAR UP Week will be celebrated. GIPS was awarded the first GEAR UP grant in Nebraska.

“We’re really excited to enrich what’s already going on,” Neeman said.

GIPS will hire two instructional coaches, one to focus on English language arts, and one to focus on the science, technology, engineering and math areas. The instructional coaches will help with teacher development, which is also part of GEAR UP. The district will also hire a family college & career financial specialist who will work with families and students.

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