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GEAR UP launches college night

The GEAR UP program hosted by the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) held its first College Night of the spring 2012 semester on Tuesday, February 7th for students from the public and private high schools enrolled in the program, their parents and teachers. Before a standing room only audience in the College’s lecture hall, program director Tupua Roy Fua and his staff delivered informative and motivational talks on making the transition from high school to college, before yielding the podium to special guest Dr. Lina Galea’i-Scanlan of the ASCC Teacher Education Department (TED), followed by Nunuimalo Apisaloma Toleafoa of the Samoan Studies Institute (SSI).

Now in its sixth year on the ASCC campus, GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, and aims to improve educational outcomes for students from low-income households as they prepare for college.  The federally funded program provides intensive before and after-school tutoring, as well as special events and summer camps to cohorts of qualifying high school students. GEAR UP, begun during the administration of President Bill Clinton, proceeds from the idea that promising students from low income families can find greater opportunities open to them if they have access to state of the art tutoring methods and technologies.

Tupua and his staff have made College Night a regular feature each semester since 2009, but last year decided to present it twice per semester to accommodate more GEAR UP students and their parents. A typical College Night will feature information on the college application and financial aid process, plus guest speakers who highlight a particular ASCC program or potential career path. At this past Tuesday’s event, Dr. Galea’i-Scanlan discussed how the TED aims to address the shortage of teachers in the Territory who have degrees in Early Education, and explained how the department’s new 300 and 400 level courses can apply towards the first Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree offered by ASCC. Next, Nunuimalo gave an overview of the many activities taking place within the Samoan Studies Institute, and explained how a degree in Samoan Studies can lead to a number of career options. Due to popular demand, this semester GEAR UP will hold a College Night event each month through May.

2012 marks the final year of the GEAR UP funding cycle that began in 2006 when the current group of high school seniors was preparing to enter the 7th grade. At present it remains uncertain whether Washington will fund another six-year cycle, but Tupua is optimistic about the program’s chances of continuing. “US Department of Education Federal Programs are all being scrutinized as a result of budget cuts,” he explained. “However, I have heard there is a lot of confidence in the (related) TRIO and GEAR UP programs.  We intend to apply for the next round of applications.” Although the program may or may not continue, GEAR UP will still help 20 of its most promising students meet their upcoming college expenses with scholarships of $1,000 each.  GUAS also assists any of its students in their applications for financial aid, scholarships and grants.

When Tupua travels to Washington this month to lobby for continued funding, he will take with him a record of substantial achievement. “Each semester we’ve seen a significant increase in both Math and English grades,” he said of the students GEAR UP has worked with. “I know that our cohort students are better prepared for the transition to post secondary education in terms of understanding financing, academic rigor, and knowledge of ASCC programs. In addition to improving their basic knowledge through tutoring and other activities, increasing their understanding of college programs, eligibility requirements, transferability, scheduling course loads, and available resources and support is critical to their college success.”

 Tupua emphasized that parents should take an active concern in the level of preparation their sons and daughters have made when both applying for and beginning college.  “The majority of graduates from the local high schools are placed in remedial English and Math courses when entering ASCC,” he reflected, “and the number of students that drop out within one year due to a lack of study skills to master the college curriculum is much higher than the national average. This should tell the community that there is a great need for parents to ensure their children are better prepared for college. Parents must convey the value of higher education to their children, while the students need to clearly understand their role and responsibility for their own success.”

As the fate of GEAR UP in American Samoa rests on the decision of the USDOE, Tupua remains dedicated to his goal. “Applying for GEAR UP funding is very competitive,” he reflected, “but we will again submit our application for continuance as it opens in the coming year.  I’m always optimistic for GEAR UP and other programs that encourage our youth.  My optimism is fueled by our students’ drive and the talents they possess. There are many very smart and blessed students who need us to help pave the way for their success.”