On Mondays, when he’s in town, Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) makes visits to schools across the city. Last Monday, he had a special reason to stop by Germantown High School – it’s celebrating its first class of GEAR UP students.
Congressman Fattah is the architect of GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), the 49 state, $3 billion college readiness and preparation program that he guided through Congress in 1988. Since its inception, Philadelphia has received approximately $50 million in federal funds for the program, and has served over 34,000 students.
GHS has part of a Pa. State GEAR UP grant that targets a cohort of students and follows them from 7th grade through high school. Many of the 190 students in the GHS freshman class are from feeder GEAR UP schools, like Theodore Roosevelt Middle School. Now they make up the first GEAR UP class to hit GHS.
“GEAR UP is like a village that helps our students through high school and prepares them for college,” explained Cory Tucker, the direct service coordinator at GHS. “It provides professional development for teachers, workshops for parents, and lots of programs for the students like a math tutor, college trips, and mentoring.”
Counselor Charles Moore added that the students develop individual learning plans with short and long term goals. If they need extra help, they get it.
“I was having problems in Algebra One this year,” said Freshman Anjala Phillips. “I told Mr. Tucker, and I was given tutoring help right away.”
Teachers see the program as an important part of their students’ success.
“Our students now have a good shot at getting into college with the support from GEAR UP,” said Denise Magasich, the faculty leader for the freshman class at GHS.
So far, the college preparedness program seems to be working. Assistant Vice Principal April Thomas was proud to announce that the freshmen in the program had the highest attendance rates, and the highest number on the honor roll and distinguished honor roll participants of any other grade at GHS in the current school year.
Individual students seem to be responding too. Anjala Phillips didn’t miss the opportunity to try out some of her training from journalism class on Fattah while he was there. She grilled him about school funding and budgets, teaching to the test, and how schools can improve.
“I wanted to hear the Congressman’s perspective on these issues,” she said. “Although he did not answer my questions completely, I learned a lot.”