For Des Moines and Marshalltown, #GEARUPWorks with college visits, outreach programs and family nights

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Our celebration of National GEAR UP Week continues with a look at two Central Iowa districts, Des Moines and Marshalltown. GEAR UP Iowa facilitator Tiffany Berkenes brings career experience with such groups as Trio and Upward Bound to bear on her work with Iowa College Aid, a passion that shows in her work with GEAR UP Iowa schools. She discusses the impact of programs like GEAR UP Iowa on schools and shares the ways that schools in her districts are building a “college-going” for students.Brody

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a quote that mirrors my holistic philosophy on education and how our communities and nation can most effectively guide our students towards academic success. You’ll often see me use #ittakesavillage on my @GEARUP_Tiffany Twitter posts or retweets and it is one of many reasons why I pursued this position as a GEAR UP Facilitator.

I have had the privilege of initiating collaborative discussions among schools and district personnel, parents, students, community partners, colleges/universities and other college access professionals to review needs and develop services of which will improve college and career readiness for ALL students. I truly believe that preparing our youth for higher education, the workforce, and how they can be global citizens of good character through events such as college visits, mentoring and non-cognitive skill development have a direct impact on everyone, and the economy.

Students are our future and they are my #1 priority as I work with my assigned GEAR UP districts, Des Moines Public Schools and Marshalltown Community School District. I was excited to continue working with Des Moines when I started with GEAR UP since I worked closely with their schools and students at my previous job with Upward Bound.

I’d like to highlight below some of the successes and anticipated GEAR UP activities at the middle schools in Des Moines and Marshalltown:

Marshalltown Career Days

  • Marshalltown hosted Career Days in which 80 staff and community members presented about their careers and educational paths to students and parents

Graceland U College Visit

  • Des Moines Weeks had their nearly 200 7th grade students visit Central College, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa Central Community College, Indian Hills Community College or Graceland University and all ten middle schools will be hosting college visit days this academic year
    • In fact, Weeks reported that approximately 70% of students agreed or strongly agreed that going on a campus visit changed the way they think about college in a positive way and 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they could see themselves on a college campus after they graduate from high school.
  • Marshalltown and Des Moines Goodrell staff participated in ISU Extension’s Juntos facilitator training and many schools plan on implementing this 5-session Latino family workshop series

Brody Library

  • Des Moines Brody purchased several books and resources to create a college and career library for student exploration and for teachers to use within the classroom
  • All of the schools plan on hosting family nights with speakers such as College Savings Iowa and Iowa State University’s Middle School Outreach Counselor, Nick Morton, discussing financial aid and college planning
  • Des Moines Callanan will be sending all 8th graders next month to the ISU Extension Adventure Learning Center ropes course, which will encourasge students to work on communication, problem solving, teambuilding and leadership development


  • The Des Moines Hiatt counselor, Julia Minnehan, will be leading a new Girls on the Run program next semester, which is a transformational physical activity based on positive youth development by teaching life skills through interactive lessons and running games

I look forward to hearing how our GEAR UP students are positively impacted by these opportunities and continuing to be an integral part of the TEAM effort to enhance learning and increase college aspirations through early awareness! After all, as Nelson Mandela proclaimed, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”


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