#GEARUPWorks Thanks To Strong Staff, Parent Engagement in Denison, Storm Lake and Perry

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While National GEAR UP Week draws to a conclusion, the work of GEAR UP Iowa facilitators throughout the state continues. Working closely with schools, students and families, GEAR UP Iowa serves as a critical tool to increasing college enrollment and completion by 2020. Though Iowa stands as the nation’s leader in high school graduation, Iowa’s continued success and growth relies on encouraging students to continue their education beyond high school. Doing so not only gives students the skills to serve a growing economy, but to personally thrive within it.

GEAR UP Iowa Facilitator Flow Slowing works with students in Perry, Denison and Storm Lake, Iowa. As a Latina, she appreciates not only the efforts required to increase education after high school for all students, but also the unique difficulties that face Latinos as they frequently face additional cultural challenges as first-generation students. Armed with engaged teacher and parent teams in her districts, Slowing believes that GEAR UP Iowa’s work with students in these districts will make a positive impact not only on student lives but also on the health of their communities. She shares her experiences from her first year of work with Perry, Dennison and Storm Lake:

As a GEAR UP Iowa facilitator, I have had the privilege of working with Denison, Perry and Storm Lake school districts.  These districts are striving to create inclusive learning environments in their schools to better serve a diverse group of students. I am very passionate about working with underrepresented students and their families, particularly with Latinos. My daily work is informed by the importance of cultural responsive services to promote higher education among immigrant students and their families.

Immigrant students bring both opportunities and challenges to schools and communities. GEAR UP Iowa program is supporting these schools in creating a college going culture among their students, families and communities.

At Perry Middle School, counselor Jody Schuttler manages the GEAR UP grant with the great support of Principal Shaun Kruger. Both are very committed to their students and are always thinking about innovative ways to engage students and families. Some of the services that GEAR UP Iowa students received during the first year include:

  • Tutoring and mentoring
  • Enrichment activities: Students who had 90% of homework completion participated in an Adventure Learning Trip that focused on developing communication, problem solving and cooperation skills.
  • College and Career exploration: Around 150 students participated in a field trip to DMACC Center in Perry. They spent time doing hands-on activities in the fields of welding, health occupations, criminal justice and computer programming.
  • Family engagement: During parent teacher conferences, parents and students received information about the GEAR UP Iowa program and scholarships. In addition, 10 Latino families participated in Juntos “Together for a better education” , a series of workshops that promote high school graduation and postsecondary education among Latino families.

Denison’s fantastic GEAR UP Iowa team includes Director of Secondary School Improvement Scott Moran, Director of Elementary School Improvement Heather Lagerfel and Denison Middle School 8th grade teacher Maggie Gorman, who also serves as the school’s GEAR UP Iowa coordinator. This group meets regularly to discuss data on student academic performance and to ensure that GEAR UP Iowa activities address the students’ academic needs. During the first year they offered the following services:

  • After School Tutoring: Students were identified based on their academic needs and proficiency. The schools offered math and reading tutoring as well as homework help. Around 30 GEAR UP Iowa students were mentored by high school seniors in the Cadet Program. Mentors helped with homework and provided a nurturing relationship as role models.
  • Enrichment program: The GEAR UP Iowa team at Denison Middle Scholl created two after-school clubs. The Engineer Club focused on the fields of electrical, mechanical, civil, and computer engineer while the Earth Club focused on agriculture, gardening and conservation.
  • Family Orientation Night: GEAR UP Iowa students and families learned about the GEAR UP Iowa program and its benefits. Students received special certificates for their involvement. Separate meetings were held in English and Spanish to accommodate families.
  • Denison also acquired National Clearinghouse Tracking Analysis to track students’ educational attainment after high school graduation.

For the upcoming year, Denison is planning to continue their tutoring, enrichment and mentoring program, as well as activities for college exploration and family financial awareness.

Storm Lake Middle School Principal Jay Slight oversees the GEAR UP Iowa grants at his school. He is very committed to serve a diverse group of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and believes in the importance of professional development to increase student academic achievement. We are also fortunate to have an enthusiastic group of teachers and counselors who share the GEAR UP Iowa goals.

These are some of the services that GEAR UP Iowa students at Storm Lake Middle School received during the first year.

  • Support programs: Selected students participated in AVID classes to increase student achievement and interest on higher education.
  • Tutoring: Students received after-school reading and math programs, interventions during the school day and lunch “study table” in order to increase their proficiency in math and reading.
  • Mentoring: Twenty students were mentored through the “Team Mates” program, which featured many college student mentors.
  • College Exploration: Students visited Buena Vista University and had the opportunity to learn about college requirements, scholarships and financial aid while touring the campus.
  • Family Engagement: Students and families learned about the GEAR UP Iowa program and had the opportunity to learn more about Iowa State University. An ISU admission counselor shared information about college requirements and the importance on getting good grades in school and participating in extracurricular activities.

Storm Lake parents have also stepped up to offer support. Two Storm Lake Middle School parents (Emilia Marroquin, who serves as Outreach Coordinator at Head Start, and Nichole Kleepsies, County Youth Education Coordinator at ISU Extension & Outreach) have helped create a GEAR UP Iowa parent group in Storm Lake to grow with GEAR UP Iowa students as they progress through school.

Each of these communities allow me to further understand both strengths and barriers among underrepresented students as they strive to graduate from high school and continue with postsecondary education. The GEAR UP Iowa program is sending a powerful message to students, letting them know that we, as a country, believe in their potential to pursue postsecondary education and will be there to support them academically and financially through this journey. The GEAR UP Iowa program is providing services and scholarships to increase educational attainment among minority students, but most important the program presents open opportunities and brings hope.


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