(Press release/WYSH staff reports) The Tennessee Higher Education Commission announced Wednesday that the Anderson County School system has been awarded an$853,350.00 GEAR UP grant that will spread that funding over the next six years. The grant funds will provide services to students and families with the aim of increasing enrollment and success in post-secondary education.
According to the school system, the funding is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant, which aims to increase the number of low-income students in Tennessee who are accessing and succeeding in higher education. Anderson County Schools’ (specifically Clinton High School, Clinton Middle School, and Norwood Middle School), is one of 15 communities selected to receive funds. The communities were selected through a competitive application process by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the administrator of the state’s GEAR UP TN grant.
Previously the GEAR UP grant, which the county first received seven years ago, covered all of Anderson County, but a change in demographics meant that this time around, only Clinton High School and Clinton and Norwood MIddle Schools qualified. Chief Academic Officer and Director of Secondary Education for the Anderson County Schools, Eric Snider explained that there are a “couple of factors that go in to it. One of them is the number of Free and Reduced (meal plan) students…Clinton (High), Norwood and CMS all qualify with the cutoff We have more qualified free or reduced students on this side of the river and that was a factor this year.”
Snider said the second factor was an at-the-time qualifying rate of college-going students, saying that in 2015 when the system applied for this grant cycle, that rate was just below the cutoff line and allowed the system to qualify. If they had used the rate from 2016, which was above the cutoff, Anderson County would not have qualified. The program is aimed, in part, at increasing the number of students on the free and reduced meal plans that move on to either a TCAT, two-year or four-year school, or right in to the workforce.
“We are so excited and honored to be awarded the GEAR UP TN grant! In Anderson County it is our intent to continue to promote post-secondary access for all students. This funding will support, not supplant, career exposure and college readiness initiatives which lead to success in post-secondary education. Through improved academic performance, higher graduation rates and shared post-secondary knowledge and opportunities, it is our desire to both educate our school community and reduce the anxiety that is prevalent in so many students and their families surrounding education after high school,” said Snider in a press release.
As part of the project, Clinton High School and its feeder schools will form a local, community-based GEAR UP TN Collaborative to provide college access and success-focused services to students at
Clinton High School, Clinton Middle School, and Norwood Middle School. Students in the Class of 2023, who are currently in the seventh grade, will receive services as a cohort through middle school, high school, and their first year of post-secondary education.
Snider says: “We provide opportunities, boots on the ground, opportunities for our students in the 6th grade, 7th grade, to visit a technical school, or a two-year university, or a four-year university. Focus on ACT, focus on career education, interest inventories, celebrations, recognitions, professional development for teachers, standardized tests. There is a myriad of support items in place to help ensure that our students are college and career-ready.”
Seniors at Clinton High School will also receive direct services that will help them prepare for college and apply to post-secondary programs. Services will include one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, college visits, and financial aid counseling. GEAR UP TN will also provide students across the state of Tennessee with college and financial aid resources, including a college access and success website, www.CollegeforTN.org, according to the press release.
Each GEAR UP TN Collaborative includes formal partnerships with at least one middle school, one high school, a higher education institution, a local board of education and at least two community-based organizations. Partners will help implement grant activities and ensure that the momentum of college access work continues beyond the six-year grant. Clinton High School’s GEAR UP TN Collaborative will partner with Roane State Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Pellissippi State Community College, Clayton Homes, SL Tennessee, Aisin, Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Junior Achievement, Techmer, and Anderson County Chamber of Commerce.
Snider: “You know, we can’t do it alone, it’s a team effort, everybody together is what really makes this successful. We’re really priviliged, thankful, for the people of Anderson County and the businesses that support us, and the universities, and I’m just so excited to see what we’re going to accomplish in the next six years with this [grant].”
This is Tennessee’s third GEAR UP grant. Tennessee’s first GEAR UP TN project, which began in 2005, resulted in a 22.8 percent increase in college-going rates in the nine rural school 8 districts. Communities served by Tennessee’s second GEAR UP TN grant, which began in 2012, have shown impressive results, including over 9 percentage points of growth in college-going rates since 2012. Tennessee was one of ten states awarded a GEAR UP grant as part of the 2017 competition.
Angela “Hoppy” Merryman serves as the Site Coordinator for the grand and Snider was effusive in his praise of her dedication to the students of Anderson County and her tireless work on their behalf. She will remain charge of the program as a result of the grant.
“She is fantastic and I’m a firm believer that success is in large part who you put in charge of things. Whether it’s the teacher from the classroom, hiring that right person, the administrator, the secretary, or regardless of the position, it’s really important that you have the right person for the job, and Hoppy fits that mold exactly. She is tireless, she has a passion and it’s really about the passion and that’s what motivates her, I believe.”
About GEAR UP TN
GEAR UP TN is a locally driven project that works to prepare students for success in middle school, high school, and postsecondary education. Funded through a seven-year grant from the U.S.
Department of Education and administered by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, GEAR
UP TN works with community-based collaboratives in 15 counties across the state to promote college readiness and success. Between 2017 and 2024, GEAR UP TN will provide a variety of services including mentoring, tutoring, college visits, and financial aid counseling, to ensure more Tennessee students can enroll and succeed in post-secondary education.