GEAR-UP, a multifaceted CSI Discovery Institute program aimed at making college a realistic goal for students at Intermediate School 49 (the Berta A. Dreyfus School) and Curtis and New Dorp high schools, has been awarded a six-year U.S. Department of Education GEAR-UP grant totaling $3.7 million. GEAR-UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a national educational program for students and teachers in high-need schools.

The program features visits to CSI to experience the college environment; tutoring and mentoring by trained CSI students known as Teaching Scholars, some of whom are also GEAR-UP ‘graduates’; and summer computer “boot camps” and science experiments held in college laboratories. In addition, GEAR-UP provides after-school services at community organizations, such the Kid’s Café at the United Methodist Church, the Life Change After School Center, the Stapleton Library, and the United Multi-Cultural Center.

Dr. Michael Pappas, Acting Director of the Discovery Institute, who oversees GEAR-UP and other grants at the Institute, said the funds are being spent to “educate our young students and immerse them in the college experience, exciting them about the prospect of preparing for and entering college. Also, the funds provide high-quality professional development for their teachers to continue this important program.”

Students also attend education-themed shows on campus related to STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These are federally targeted areas for education improvement, according to Dr. Pappas. For example, they provide entertaining lessons in the sciences such as acrobatics and juggling that dramatize the law of gravity and the physics of motion.

GEAR-UP staffs 15 full- and part-time professionals in multiple educational areas. Retired master teachers work in the Discovery Institute, training Teaching Scholars to mentor students and to assist teachers in classes at the intermediate school and high schools. Many CSI Teaching Scholars choose teaching as a career due to their positive experiences with GEAR-UP.

Additional GEAR-UP staff members provide Professional Development Workshops for teachers at I.S. 49 and other schools to emphasize what Dr. Pappas terms the “Discovery process of education.” This program stresses developing school curricula that, he said, help students learn through a hands-on “discovery” approach rather than by “boring, rote memorization. GEAR-UP students learn faster, retain more knowledge, and make higher grades,” he commented.

GEAR-UP encourages many students to set their sights on college. Staff members help students find scholarships, loans, and financial aid for college. A Parent Coordinator and staff keep parents apprised of GEAR-UP programs and advantages of using GEAR-UP partner libraries and other community organizations to keep children actively engaged after school. Many GEAR-UP students are “latch-key” children and need the after-school supervision, tutoring, and guidance it provides. Students also participate in ESL (English as a Second Language) and math training through GEAR-UP before, during, and after school.

I.S. 49 was selected as a “high-need” school based on economic need. Especially given the current state of the economy, the grant, with all the important services it provides the children, is “awesome,” declared Ms. Lenore Vazquez, GEAR-UP Coordinator at the Discovery Institute.

Parents, she said, are very satisfied with GEAR-UP. “Over the past several years, the number of I.S. 49 students doing well in math and English courses has risen markedly since they began participating in our program.”

GEAR-UP currently serves 891 students at I.S. 49 and the high schools it feeds. About 100 students participate in GEAR-UP summer programs, which include science and math labs, computer labs, and shows.