By Tim Leeds
Troy DeCora and Cece Corcoran, both eighth-graders at Rocky Boy Middle School, recently received education savings accounts through an activity sponsored by the pilot GEAR UP initiative
DeCora, son of Roger and Juanita DeCora, and Corcoran, daughter of Bert and Josephine Corcoran, all of Rocky Boy, were awarded $250 Montana Family Education Savings Accounts by Arlene Hannawalt, director of the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program. They were awarded at a GEAR UP assembly in the Rocky Boy High School Gymnasium on April 24.
The savings account, which is valid for 15 years, can be used at any eligible college in the United States.
Students in the seventh- and eighth-grades wrote essays to enter the GEAR UP savings account competition.
Middle school students received 21st Century Scholarship Certificates from the U.S. Department of Education, signed by Secretary of Education Richard Riley and U.S. President William Clinton, at the assembly. The certificates encourage students to plan for college, and list financial aid which might be available to them.
GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) was launched by the Department of Education in 1999 as a national initiative. It is intended to promote equal access to higher education and is directed towards low-income students from the time they enter middle school through high school graduation and college enrollment.
Mark Spotted Horse, school community coordinator for the GEAR UP initiative at Rocky Boy, said the program reverses the usual tactics of similar programs. He said instead of targeting students when they are seniors in high school and working down, GEAR UP starts when they are young and tracks them through their education.
He said the program helps the students gain early awareness of undergraduate programs. He said they target seventh- and eighth-graders to get them motivated, aware of and ready for college prep courses, and ready to make career-minded choices.
Spotted Horse said 20 schools in Montana were chosen to be included in the GEAR UP initiative, and Rocky Boy was fortunate enough to be selected as one of those schools.
The other schools, chosen from 64 eligible districts, are Arrowhead in Pray, Box Elder, Brockton, Bloomfield, Brady, Browning, Charlo, Evergreen in Kalispell, Frazer, Hays Lodgepole, Heart Butte, Kila, Lame Deer, Lincoln, Pryor, St. Ignatius, Vaughn, Winnett and Wyola.
GEAR UP is a five-year $11.8 million dollar grant awarded to the state of Montana through the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE.) OCHE has partnered with the Office of Public Instruction, the Montana University System, Montana tribal colleges, VISTA, the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program, the Student Assistance Foundation of Montana and the Department of Labor in the GEAR UP initiative.
Goals of GEAR UP in Montana include developing rigorous courses within the schools to prepare the students for college; providing information about college admission, academic preparation and financial aid; involving parents in their children's secondary education and college preparation; encouraging teachers and counselors to raise expectations for all students; to promote total systemic change in schools which will infuse career awareness strategies into the curriculum and enhance career counseling and teaching strategies; provide scholarships for students to attend colleges in Montana.