6 of 48 GEAR UP Schools Receive Gold Ribbon Honor


SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced that 193 middle schools and 180 high schools, and 6 of 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools have been honored under the state’s new Gold Ribbon Schools Awards Program, which is temporarily taking the place of the California Distinguished Schools Program. The awards, introduced in 2013, reflect Torlakson’s goals outlined in his A Blueprint for Great Schools report, which provides direction for California’s education system.

“These schools are academically successful, vibrant, and innovative centers of learning and teaching,” Torlakson said. “They provide great examples of the things educators are doing right—embracing rigorous academic standards, providing excellence and creativity in teaching, and creating a positive school climate.”

The California Gold Ribbon Schools Award was created to honor schools in place of the California Distinguished Schools Program, which is on hiatus while California creates new assessment and accountability systems.

Schools applied for the award based on a model program their school has adopted that includes standards-based activities, projects, strategies, and practices that can be replicated by other local educational agencies. The new award is recognizing middle and high schools this year and elementary schools in 2016.

The Gold Ribbon awards recognize California schools that have made gains in implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education. These include, the California Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, California English Language Development Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards.

California GEAR UP Gold Ribbon Schools:

Jones Middle School (Baldwin Park)

Jones Junior High: The school was honored for creating a college-going culture supported through a variety of programs. Efforts range from Geared UP for College, a college and career readiness program funded through a grant from California GEAR UP. As part of that program, the school offers a pre-Advanced Placement pilot program called SpringBoard.

Jones reinforces college options with an annual College Week that includes a college fair, an annual panel of college students who describe their experiences to more than 150 students, a partnership with Kaiser Permanente to encourage exploration of medical careers and a program to boost parent-school communication called the Parent Institute for Quality Education. In the last two years, nearly 200 parents have taken part in the institute.

Landmark Middle School (Moreno Valley Unified)

Vista Heights Middle School (Moreno Valley Unified)

Sunny mead Middle School (Moreno Valley Unified)

Upland Junior High (Upland Unified)

Vista Preparatory Academy (Redbluff Union)

The Gold Ribbons are intended to run for two years, providing the state with an interim way to recognize excellence while California adopts new statewide assessments in math and English language arts (ELA) aligned with the California Common Core.

The former assessments were used to generate the state’s Academic Performance Index score for each school – a figure that helped establish eligibility for the Distinguished Schools program.

But California dropped its ELA and math assessments in 2014 while it tested a new system that went into effect this spring. The state also put the API on hiatus while it builds a new model for determining school success that is broader than the test-score driven tool previously used.

Unlike the Distinguished Schools program, Gold Ribbon applicants nominate themselves. But both systems include site visits by a team of educators as part of the final determination of winners; both also rotate annually between secondary and elementary schools.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of a cohort of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a systemic network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. This expanded capacity is expected to result in a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, enrolling and succeeding in higher education.

The ultimate outcome expected from this Program is that a higher proportion of students will be prepared to enroll and succeed in advanced courses in middle school and high school and enter and graduate with a degree from a higher educational institution.

The fact that six of our 48 schools were honored by this program is indicative of the mission focused culture of focusing on ALL students and setting expectations for school communities extremely high.

Please visit the California Gold Ribbon Schools Program on the California Department of Education’s Web site.



Teachers Who Blog To Stay In Touch



(from NPR)

Katie Morrow became a teacher, among other things, because of wanderlust.

“I’m going to be a teacher because I can go anywhere in the world,” she thought.

She’s originally from a small town in Nebraska called O’Neill, population 3,700. “In the middle of nowhere, literally,” she says.

So where did she end up teaching? Right back in O’Neill. She fell in love with a hometown boy and ended up at O’Neill’s only public school. It’s K-12, with 750 students.

Morrow teaches middle-school English; she’s also a technology integration specialist.

She says she loves Nebraska, but teaching in a small town comes with its own set of problems. A big one is the sense of isolation. “Let’s say you’re the music teacher in O’Neill, Neb. You’re the only music teacher.”

In 2007, Morrow became an Apple Distinguished Educator and met with other outstanding teachers from around the world. She says she was in awe of their achievements, but also thought, “We’re doing good things, too, in O’Neill that people just don’t hear about.”

She started a blog, Teach 4 2 Morrow. Like many educators across rural America, she has tapped into a way to keep in touch with other teachers far beyond her small community.

Don’t Forget About The Small Towns

Morrow says her main goal in writing is to shine a spotlight on what teachers in small town America are doing. Unlike inner-city schools, she explains, “We don’t have a local news station that can report when my class does this awesome project, so putting it on a blog is an easy way to do it.”

She’s also big on making her students blog.

Part of Morrow’s job is leading the school’s one-to-one initiative, in which every student has a laptop to use throughout the day.

She assigns her seventh- and eighth-graders to blog about their everyday lives and about the projects the class is working on.

Most of the kids who grow up in O’Neill “never leave a two-hour radius,” she says. “Bringing the technology to them and allowing them to bridge that outer part of the world that they aren’t exposed to normally is huge.”


Sarah Hagan, recently featured in our 50 Great Teachers series, grew up thinking she was from a small town in Oklahoma until she began teaching in Drumright, Okla., which has a population of less than 3,000.

“There are tinier towns than I realized,” she jokes. “I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. I always assumed I’d go work at this school where I would have this fabulous math department, and I’d collaborate with them. And then I ended up in a tiny town where there’s one other math teacher.”

Hagan’s own love of teaching was born in part from reading a math teacher’s blog when she herself was in high school. It was called Math Teacher Mambo by Shireen Dadmehr.

“I just became amazed,” Hagan recalls. “I thought, ‘This is the way I want to teach.’ For the rest of high school and college I read all the teacher blogs I could get my hands on.”

She still follows about 400 different math blogs for ideas. One of her favorites is Kalamity Kat, by Megan Hayes-Golding, based in Atlanta, which Hagan says gave her the idea to ditch textbooks and have students create their own manuals.

Hagan writes her own very successful blog, Math = Love, part of the Math Twitter Blogosphere, on which she says she has met wonderful friends — and her boyfriend.

She says she never expected her own blog to get almost 3 million page views. It’s a combination of project ideas and very cute “Things Teenagers Say.” (Sample: “I’ll be here all week with the pi jokes. I’m like a baker.”)

After learning so much from blogs herself, Hagan says, “I felt like I should give something back to the community I’d been stealing ideas from.”

But for her, it’s about more than just exchanging ideas: “It reminds me that I’m not alone.”

A Little Positivity

“There’s two traffic lights,” is how Katherine Sokolowski describes Monticello, Ill. She teaches fifth-grade language arts there, in a school that serves adjacent towns as well, with about 120 kids per grade.

And she writes a blog, Read, Write, Reflect. She started it in 2011, for two big reasons:

First, she felt that if she wanted to be a language arts teacher, she should be willing to challenge herself to write. Second, and most importantly, she felt the conversation about teaching in America was too negative.

“It’s easy in the media to shed a negative light on the state of our education system,” she says. “But there’s so much good happening across the country.”

“It’s not all rosy” Sokolowski clarifies. For example, she debates other teachers on her blog about issues that concern her, like standardized testing. She gives advice about how to connect with difficult students.

And she writes about the bad days, too. Like the time her class came back from a break and only half of the students had read their assigned books. She says the response from her fellow teachers always brightens those bad days. “One commenter told me, ‘It’s like we all live in the same area.’ ”

And there’s one unexpected reward from her blog: a closer relationship with students and parents in Monticello.

Even though she’s in a small town where relationships are more intimate, Sokolowski says students and parents read her blog and get to know her better. For example, her students know from her blog that she’s scared of flying. So when she had to travel recently, kids were checking in to make sure she was OK.

Some Things Are Still Local

These rural teachers say there’s a definite urban bias in the teaching blogosphere. “Most of the blogs I read are either people teaching in the suburbs or teaching in the inner city,” Hagan says.

That leaves out issues that are unique to teaching in remote locations, like the nature of bullying in a small town, where everyone has known each other for generations.

“By the time [these kids] get to high school, bullying becomes a real issue,” Hagan explains. “They know how to push each other’s buttons exactly.”

It’s an issue she finds answers to locally, not online. “I feel like that’s something I speak to my actual colleagues about, because they really understand the environment we’re working in. A lot of my colleagues have worked here for 25 years. A lot of the kids I have now, they taught their parents. They have a lot of understanding of the area. ”

Read original article and commentary here on the NPR site.


2015 California GEAR UP Program Update



The goal of the California GEAR UP Program is: 

To develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a systemic network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. This expanded capacity is expected to result in a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, enrolling and succeeding in higher education.

The ultimate outcome expected from this Program is that a higher proportion of students will be prepared to enroll and succeed in advanced courses in middle school and high school and enter and graduate with a degree from a higher educational institution.

This Program has three modes of services to support schools in reaching this goal:

  • direct service to a cohort of students through the Bridge for Students Model;
  • services to a cohort of middle schools through the Whole School Model; and,
  • services to all California middle schools through the Educational System Transformation Model.

Bridge for Students Model:

The Bridge for Students Model is characterized by collaboration, student progress tracking, and data sharing among a family of schools across educational levels in order to prepare all cohort students for college. The objective guiding this model is:

Objective 1: To Increase by 20 Percent the Number of Bridge Students Achieving at Grade-Appropriate Levels in Mathematics as Compared to the Respective 2010–11 Class at the School.

The first step in building this bridge occurred when 631 sixth graders at five elementary schools were introduced to a college-going culture in the 2010–11 year. Today, these students are tenth graders at Valley High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District and will graduate from this school in 2017, the final year of this grant cycle.

These high school students received research-supported, grade-appropriate services to enhance their opportunity for success, especially in mathematics, including:

  • individualized tutoring in Mathematics three or five days a week, depending on the course;
  • enrollment in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) courses and Career Technical Pathways through Health Teach and Project Lead the Way;
  • field trips that expose students to various collegiate environments and careers;
  • support from GEAR UP staff to monitor student academic progress and facilitate success at the school;
  • career exploration with staff in areas of interest, job shadowing, and mentors in connected fields;
  • monthly workshops focused on college and career readiness;
  • collaboration with schools in the feeder pattern, local businesses, the Elk Grove School Unified School District, and Consumnes River College to offer more rigorous coursework, create a college-going culture, increase cross-articulation opportunities in Advanced Placement/Honors coursework, and support, place, and adopt Integrated Mathematics.

Whole School Model:

The Whole School Model is characterized by services, staff, and resources designed to create systemic change at a school site. This model is predicated on systemic change theory and research about effective learning communities that demonstrates the importance of planning time, the principal as an instructional leader, and the critical nature of using data to inform decision-making. The objective guiding this model is:

Objective 2: To Increase by Five Percent Each Year the Number of Students at the Participating GEAR UP Schools Who Are Performing at Grade-Appropriate Levels in Mathematics as Compared to the Performance of Students at These Schools in the 2010–11 Year.

In May of 2012, 48 low-income schools across the state were selected to participate in the Implementation Phase of this six-year grant cycle. A School Services Coach has been assigned to each school with the responsibility for assisting to coalesce a GEAR UP School Leadership Team composed of the principal, other school administrators, guidance counselors, teachers in core academic content areas, a parent, and a counselor.

In the fall of 2014, GEAR UP schools attended regional Principal and Leadership Team Institutes to provide opportunities to learn from each other and problem solve together about common concerns and issues. These events were customized to meet the needs of participating schools within each region and in alignment with focused areas of growth identified on the School Self-Assessment Rubric (SSAR) developed by the UCLA Graduate School of Education. The SSAR serves as a yardstick to assess school change over time and guide the development of a college-going culture at the school site. These Institutes were followed by Regional Events in spring 2015 focused on classroom practices for implementing Common Core State Standards, developing region-wide professional learning communities, and proactive whole school engagement to address instructional equity for ALL students.

GEAR UP schools in the cohort have continued to make progress with the implementation of the Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project (MDTP) on the Daskala online platform. This diagnostic test measures student readiness for mathematics courses ranging from Pre-Algebra to Calculus. During this year, GEAR UP Coaches and MDTP Directors have collaborated to monitor progress at the school site. This online tool provides teachers timely diagnostic data to identify specific topics and skills that need more attention, allows them to develop formative assessments, and informs and evaluates instruction and curricula to prepare students for success in mathematics courses needed for college and career readiness.

In October 2013, the Program launched a pilot project in partnership with College Board to implement SpringBoard — the Board’s college and career readiness program in English/Language Arts for grades 6-12.  The pilot is being conducted with four GEAR UP schools and includes teacher training, progress monitoring through classroom visitations, data collection, and critical understanding by schools of the nature of their learning and the reasons for doing so. Teachers have access to SpringBoard coaches, grade level seminars, and an online digital community for peer connection and support, including videos and instructional resources.

In May 2014, school principals observed teacher commitment to the depth and rigor of the college preparatory curriculum, and thereafter, the schools adopted the SpringBoard mathematics program school-wide. As a result of this pilot, the teachers from the SpringBoard ELA pilot and Mathematics program will be attending the SpringBoard Train-the-Trainer Conference where schools will send their most effective SpringBoard teachers and instructional coaches to become district-endorsed teachers. Other GEAR UP schools have expressed an interest in SpringBoard and will be participating beginning in the 2015-16 year.

 Education System Transformation Model:

An Educational System Transformation Model expands the program’s reach in promoting a college-going culture for all students and offers opportunities to impact the educational enterprise as a whole, albeit less intensively. The objective of this model is:

Objective 3: To Increase by Five Percent in Six Years the Number of Students in the State Completing Grade-Appropriate Mathematics Courses as Compared to 2010–11 Statewide Outcomes.

In July 2014, program staff met with California GEAR UP Partnership project staffs at the National Council for Community and Educational Partnerships (NCCEP) GEAR UP Conference in Washington, DC. The result of these meetings was the launching of the California Partnership Initiative.  Through this initiative, the California delegation met again in February 2015 at the NCCEP Capacity Building workshop with plans to meet at the 2015 National Conference.

Another activity undertaken through this model was the co-sponsoring of the Sixth Annual Professional Development Summit in Oakland in January 2015. This two-day event featured state and national leaders and educators to discuss the social justice agenda for African- American students.

Finally, GEAR UP strengthened its partnership with the California Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) — a State initiative to improve instruction in secondary schools through collaborative efforts involving higher education. CAPP funded an initiative this year that included four high schools to which GEAR UP middle schools matriculate students in order to sustain a college-going culture for those students, particularly in grades 10 and 11.


Community Colleges Battle Head On With Universities

community college

From Inside Higher Education.

SAN ANTONIO — Community colleges are learning that getting the authorization to offer four-year degrees doesn’t mean the struggle is over.

Twenty-two states allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees, and many administrators believe that number will grow. During the 2015 American Association of Community Colleges annual meeting here, many of those administrators said they are working to convince the public and their counterparts in the four-year community of the benefits of offering a four-year program — and that they continue to face limits and opposition.

Florida has allowed community colleges to confer four-year degrees for years, yet last year the colleges received a new hurdle when the state Legislature placed a moratorium on new four-year programs. Meanwhile, California’s pilot program — viewed as a breakthrough for the movement — is limited to 15 colleges that may offer at most one bachelor’s degree program each and may not offer degrees offered by any public university.

California authorities approved four-year programs at community colleges in dental hygiene, biomanufacturing and health information management, but nursing was excluded because that would have duplicated public university programs.

By 2020 the state will have a critical shortage of nurses, said Constance Carroll, chancellor of San Diego Community College District, because hospitals will be required to have 80 percent of the nursing staff holding bachelor’s degrees. In 2014, the state’s Board of Registered Nurses reported about 60 percent of their workforce had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

To community colleges, the shortage is clear evidence that they should be able to offer programs in nursing. (Critics fear a shortage of money to fund the new programs, and the possibility of mission creep at two-year institutions.)

“This turf war and emotionalism of it all is so great that people haven’t focused on actual details and quantity issues,” Carroll said.

“It will be a huge undertaking and the public universities don’t have the capacity,” said Linda Thor, chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe College, in Florida, said of the moratorium in Florida that the “resistance hasn’t just come from the public universities.”

Rather, he said, “It’s the for-profits and private colleges and universities opposing this because they see us as competition. Eight years ago they wouldn’t offer these degrees, but now they’re in opposition to us.”

Sasser said he’s optimistic the moratorium will be lifted soon.

Thor said she believes it will take an educational campaign for colleagues in the field to understand the market needs for these programs and how the community colleges’ bachelor’s degrees will help.

When Californians see that they can achieve a $10,000 degree in a high-demand field, they will be demanding we offer these programs, she said.



CaliforniaColleges.edu Announces New Webinars



CaliforniaColleges.edu is the one-stop website for information about higher education in California for students, counselors, and parents. It has been developed in collaboration with the New WindowCalifornia State University (CSU)New WindowUniversity of California (UC)New WindowCalifornia Community Colleges (CCC)New WindowAssociation of Independent California Colleges and Universities (A I C C U), and the New WindowCalifornia Department of Education. CaliforniaColleges.edu includes the following features:

  • Explore Colleges and Careers
    • Explore the full range of accredited public and non-profit colleges and universities in California and nationwide
    • Determine the careers that best match your skills and interests
    • Match schools and majors with your career interests
  • Plan and Pay for College
    • See which high school classes are needed to meet admission requirements
    • Learn about ways to pay for college
    • Create a personal portfolio to track your college planning
  • College Admissions
    • Gather information about the admission requirements at all California colleges and universities
    • Apply online to many of the colleges and universities in California

Webinars Announced:

There are two upcoming webinars of value provided by CCGI in for  Californiacolleges.edu, please be aware that you do have to sign up for the webinars at least 24 hours in advance of the start time to be permitted access.
First Webinar is geared towards anyone who has Administrator rights in the Professional Center as opposed to Professional rights.   If you are new to the Professional Center it is a great way to figure out the difference between the two user roles so you can decide how to assign user roles accordingly on campus.
The Professional Center for Administrators:
Tuesday, May 12, 2015 from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM (PDT)
Second Webinar is geared towards anyone at a school site who is interested in data collection and contextualizing the date to further support students growth. It will help you understand how the student activities on the site help translate and correlate into useful data.
Utilizing Pro Center Reports to Gather End-of-Year 

Thursday, May 14, 2015 from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM (PDT)


NCLB Rewrite Lacks Safeguards for Low-Performing Schools

Bob Wise

Tuesday could mark the beginning of the end for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its one-size fits all mandates. That is the good news. The bad news is that the bipartisan bill that the Senate education committee will take up on Tuesday could start a major retreat from the recent historic increases in high school graduation rates. For this reason and others, the bill should not become law without major improvements.

Offered by committee leaders U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the bipartisan bill to rewrite NCLB provides needed flexibility to states from the cookie-cutter consequences of NCLB, which treated all schools alike rather than tailoring support to meet a school’s specific challenges. The Alexander-Murray bill also requires states to collect and report data on schools. The bill provides extensive flexibility to states on how to respond, but it does not actually require states to act, instead permitting states to decide when, if, and where to intervene. That is like equipping the fire department with new tools and alarms, then giving each fire house the option to choose which fires to put out.

The bill ignores recent successes. Confronted with decades of chronically low high school graduation rates the federal government in 2008 required uniform graduation rate reporting backed by required interventions for schools that failed to show progress for traditionally underserved students. It is working. Last year overall high school graduation rates reached 81 percent; a historic first.

But with more than 1,200 high schools still graduating less than two-thirds of their students, now is not the time to be tough on data and weak on action. The more than 1.1 million students, attending these schools are 40 percent African American, even though African American students make up less than 15.7 percent of the overall K–12 public school student population. Seventy percent of these students are from low-income families, even though students from low-income families make up half of the overall K–12 public school student population. In 12 states, Hispanic students make up 30 percent of the population of these schools and in 4 states, American Indian/Alaskan Native students make up over 90 percent of the population in chronically low performing schools.

States and school districts are demonstrating that low-performing high schools can be turned around. High schools in diverse locations such as New York City, Chicago, and Talladega County, Alabama, are using effective solutions such as early-warning systems, personalized learning environments, and digital learning to significantly increase the number of low-income students and students of color graduating from high school ready for college and a career. In fact, evidence demonstrates that the combination of federal accountability and local innovation has led to gains in graduation rates across subgroups over the past decade. The lack of support for struggling students and schools in the Alexander/Murray bill puts these gains at risk.

To ensure that the schools and students with the highest needs receive support, the U.S. Senate education committee should require states to target resources and focus reform on high schools with a graduation rate at or below 67 percent. Great discretion should be left to states, districts, and schools about how they respond; no discretion should exist about whether to respond.

Additionally, the bill should require states to intervene in schools where students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and other subgroups of students fail to meet the state’s graduation rate goal for two years in a row. This safeguard is necessary because, as a new Alliance analysis finds, fourteen states had no trigger for action in response to low graduation rates among underserved students when they were not required to do so. Transparency without teeth only benefits real estate agents selling houses based on proximity to good schools. It does not benefit kids who are stuck in low-performing schools.

As it rewrites NCLB, the Congress has the opportunity to couple much greater flexibility for states and districts with proven requirements that continue increasing  graduation rates for all students.  Tuesday’s committee action should be about changing the provisions of the 14 year-old NCLB that do not reflect current education needs; not reversing the gains that have been made in improving high school graduation rates.

Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.


Grants to CA Students Who Finish in Four Years


A state senator from San Diego has proposed a plan to put more money into California’s higher education system and perhaps stop a proposed student tuition hike at University of California campuses.

Democrat Sen. Marty Block’s Senate Bill 15 will be heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 8. Block is proposing to use money from the general fund to provide $25 million to the University of California and the California State University systems to offer more classes. He wants another $50 million for each system to provide more student support services to ensure students graduate within four years.

On top of that, Block is proposing to offer incentives to students who finish in a timely manner. If a student graduates in four years, he or she will be given an incentive grant of $4,000.

“There are multiple goals,” Block told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. “One of things is it really pushes is getting students in and out in four years. The overall goal is to get more students out into the workforce.”

Block said more funding is needed because most students are graduating in five to six years. More Californians are also needed in the workforce, he said.

“To me, it’s an important investment the state needs to take,” Block said. “We can easily get another $300 million out of the general fund.”

Block’s staff estimates that the proposal would cost $342 million in fiscal 2016.

The bill comes at a time when University of California President Janet Napolitano has proposed drastic measures in order to keep the system financially sound. She said the university system would cap the number of in-state enrollments if state money is withheld. On top of that, the UC regents, the system’s governing board, also have authorized a tuition hike of 28 percent over the next five years.

Block has served on the San Diego County Board of Education and the San Diego Community College District board of trustees. Last year, his bill that allowed community colleges to begin a pilot program to offer four-year degrees was passed.

Transform Your Tax Refund Into Bright College Future

Now that tax season is upon us, use this time to review your college savings goals and take another look at your savings strategy. Saving now can make for a brighter future later. So, as you gather up your W2 and other tax-related materials, consider opening or making a contribution to a ScholarShare account. ScholarShare, California’s 529 College Savings Plan, can provide parents and relatives – anyone saving for a child’s college education – with valuable tax advantages.

Consider putting your tax refund to work in three simple ways:

  • Have the Franchise Tax Board deposit some or all of your state tax refund into your ScholarShare account;
  • Make a contribution electronically from your bank account; or
  • Mail a contribution check directly to the Plan

For additional information about how to do more with your tax refund this year, visit


ScholarShare is proud to partner with California GEAR-UP, so we can work together to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college.

According to a 2013 survey by Hart Research Associates, 92% of parents considered getting a college degree worth it, but only 46% of parents have set up a dedicated savings or investment account for their child’s higher education costs. ScholarShare, recently awarded a Bronze metal rating by Morningstar, a prominent ratings agency, is administered by the state of California and managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. Named for the section of the internal revenue code under which they were created, 529 plans offer families a tax-advantaged way to save for college.

Some of the benefits of the ScholarShare Plan include:

  • Accounts can be opened with as little as $25;
  • A wide variety of low-cost investment options are offered;
  • There are no annual account maintenance fees;
  • Earnings, if any, are tax-free if used for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition and fees, books and supplies, and certain room and board costs;
  • Funds may be used at eligible educational institutions nationwide, and some abroad;
  • Anyone can contribute to the account, making it a great gift idea for family and friends for special occasions.

To learn more or to open an account, visit www.scholarshare.com or call 1-800-544-5248. Like ScholarShare on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scholarshare529 and follow us on Twitter at @ScholarShare529.

Preparing for college academically and financially can help keep students on the path toward success.

Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan. Please visit www.scholarshare.com for a Program Disclosure Booklet containing this and other information. Read it carefully.

 Before investing in a 529 plan, you should consider whether the state you or your Beneficiary reside in or have taxable income in has a 529 plan that offers favorable state income tax or other benefits that are only available if you invest in that state’s 529 plan.

 The tax information contained herein is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal and state taxes and the additional federal 10% tax. Non-qualified withdrawals may also be subject to an additional 2.5% California tax on earnings.

 Investments in the Program are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss.

 The ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan Twitter and Facebook pages are managed by the state of California. TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Plan Manager



GEAR UP Schools Participate in US Navy SeaPerch


Underwater Robotics

Three GEAR UP schools (Hamilton, Tincher, Madrid) participated in the US Navy’s 2015 Los Angeles Regional SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Challenge at the indoor pool at the University of Southern California.  Twenty eight schools, primarily high schools and middle schools competed in three different events, an obstacle course, ring retrieval and oral presentation/design of their prepared poster.  The challenge was formidable, particularly the ring retrieval and all of the students were highly engaged and fabulous under pressure.  The opportunity to be on the vibrant USC campus was an added benefit with the Trojan Invitational Track Meet going on right across the courtyard from where the students were.

In the end, Madrid Middle School took first place for their time in navigating the obstacle course and first place in the overall competition for middle schools.

Congratulations to all of the students who participated and many thanks to the teachers who have dedicated their time to work with the students since October to build the robots and find practice venues in preparation for the challenge.  Most were already talking about “next year”!

What is SeaPerch?

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. The SeaPerch Program provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science, and mathematics (STEM) while building an underwater ROV as part of a science and engineering technology curriculum. Throughout the project, students will learn engineering concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications.

Building a SeaPerch ROV teaches basic skills in ship and submarine design and encourages students to explore naval architecture and marine and ocean engineering principles. It also teaches basic science and engineering concepts and tool safety and technical procedures. Students learn important engineering and design skills and are exposed to all the exciting careers that are possible in naval architecture and naval, ocean, and marine engineering.

Have you ever wondered where the name “SeaPerch” came from?  We asked the inventor of the original SeaPerch, Mr. Harry Bohm, and he shared the story with us.  Mr. Bohm explains that the name SeaPerch came from the USS Perch, a highly decorated World War II U.S. submarine.

USS Perch was one of a new breed of American submarines and was the first to incorporate an early form of air conditioning. She was launched May 9, 1936 by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT and was scuttled by her crew in the Java Sea on March 3, 1942 after being severely damaged during a Japanese depth charge attack two days earlier. The crew was captured and sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp; all but six of the 54 men and five officers onboard returned home after the war.

Her wreckage was discovered in November 2006 by an international team of divers off the coast of Java and was the object of archeological diver exploration.

SeaPerch is…

  • A hands-on educational tool
  • Fun and challenging
  • A curriculum that meets national learning standards
  • Integrates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
  • Teaches the teachers
  • Builds teamwork and inspires young minds
  • Introduces STEM career discussions

A Hands-On Activity.

Students learn best by doing, and during the process of building SeaPerch, they follow steps to completely assemble the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), test it, and then participate in launching their vehicles.

After the SeaPerch robot is constructed, students are encouraged to test their vehicles, deploy them on missions, and compete in a culminating event, the SeaPerch Challenge – a district-wide one-day design competition, to take what they have learned to the next level. The Challenge fosters an end goal, rewards sportsmanship, spirit and presentation skills, as well as mastery of the concepts. Events at the Challenge can include:

  • Vehicle performance – maneuvering and recovery
  • Innovative design (optional)
  • Team presentations – oral presentations to judges
  • Design Evaluation
  • Build Notebooks – document planning, construction, testing, and learning
  • Team spirit and sportsmanship at the event

Winners of local or regional Challenges can compete in the National SeaPerch Challenge, held each Spring.

A Teacher Training Program.

One of the most important aspects of SeaPerch, and one that differentiates it from similar programs, is that it includes training for teachers. The two methods of training are online video training modules or on-site training. The on-site training is offered in several locations at set times throughout the year, and if the teacher has travel funds available for hotel, transportation and travel expenses, and can travel to the site, the training on-site is at no charge for the 1 or 1.5 day training. Continuing education and/or professional development credits may be offered, as educators are often required to attend workshops throughout the year.

An Established Curriculum.

The SeaPerch curriculum has been designed to meet many learning standards and outcomes. With one project, schools are able to teach many of the concepts required for their grade level using a fun, hands-on activity for students. Some of the concepts the students learn during the build include:

  • Ship and submarine design
  • Buoyancy/displacement
  • Propulsion
  • Soldering/tool safety and usage
  • Vectors
  • Electricity/circuits and switches
  • Ergonomics
  • Waterproofing
  • Depth measurement
  • Biological sampling
  • Attenuation of light
  • Moment arm, basic physics of motion
  • Career possibilities

Program Benefits:

Meets Many Learning Standards and Outcomes: The SeaPerch curriculum has been designed to meet many learning standards and outcomes.

Supports Diversity: The program focuses on presenting the possibilities of technical careers to minorities, girls, and underrepresented populations.

Low Cost Per Student: The price per kit is low. Seed funding or subsidies may be available to help your program get started.

Web Resources & Community: The SeaPerch website provides resources, tools, information, and a community.

GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop Strengthens Programs

GEAR UP Capacity Building Conference, Philadelphia, PA February 8-11, 2015


National calls emphasizing the importance of capacity building for sustainable development of grant funded education programs have been numerous.  The U.S. Department of Education in partnership with NCCEP continues to invest time and attention to capacity building for successful programs like GEAR UP.  Since 1999, the importance of these efforts has been embedded in the proposals and goals of NCCEP with support and programming based on continuous feedback, research, and professional best practices.

The February 2015 capacity building workshops were held in Philadelphia, PA the hometown of Congressman Chaka Fattah, the founder of the GEAR UP program.  Full-day training modules were designed based on pre-survey information and input from NCCEP and feedback from GEAR UP directors.  Participants were required to submit a self-assessment questionnaire in advance of the training to introduce them to the learning goals and to ensure maximum effectiveness based on participants responses. Time was provided during the sessions for facilitated networking to encourage building peer networks, deeper learning, and to create connections between programs.


Photo: Congressman Chaka Fattah with Kay Coelho and Brad Trimble

Why Conference Attendance Matters

Whether you are a newcomer to GEAR UP or a seasoned participant, capacity building presents multiple approaches to enlighten, inspire and inform your work.  Many conferences concentrate tremendous efforton the concrete material outcomes and far less on practical, tangible and significant outcomes that do not translate monetarily: the feeling of belonging to a group with shared professional interests and commitment to the work, applicable content knowledge from presentations and vendors, networking and interacting withpeers and experts in the field.  Attending presentations, when there are so many to choose from can be a hit-or-miss adventure.  The value of this experience is unique to each individual which is why NCCEP works hard to fully engage the audience in these conferences.  

“When I was a GEAR UP coordinator, attending conferences gave me more confidence and assurance because I learned that I was doing the right thing in my work and also that I could “step things up” by trying other methods, incorporating technology, and doing more investigating through further research. These simple changes can have a powerful effect on your professional philosophy and practices, often without your being aware of it.  It also serves to remind you of the importance of remaining open to change, being a team player and sharpening your skills.”

Sean Brennan-California GEAR UP

CBW1.jpg-largePhoto: Participants at opening session of the conference

Building Capacity

Education professionals typically use the term capacity in reference to the perceived abilities, skills, and expertise of school leaders, teachers, faculties, and staffs—most commonly when describing the “capacity” of an individual or school to execute or accomplish something specific, such as leading a school-improvement effort or teaching more effectively. The term may also encompass the quality of adaptation—the ability of a school or educator to grow, progress, or improve. Common variations include educator capacity, leadership capacity, school capacity, and teacher capacity, among others.  The impact of this experience is described here by a first time attendee, Kay Coelho:

I am grateful for all that I learned and the connections made at the conference. I believe that the California GEAR UP program… will in many cases have the fortunate opportunity to be the “first” to inspire and motivate youth and communities.  The first to give a member of our communities confidence to understand their individuality, attend a higher education institute and change the course of their life. Be it a young person, a single mother, an only parent, or a community member. We will give an individual their first opportunity to succeed at college and a career.

Overall the Capacity Building Workshop in Philadelphia gave me ideas on how we can collaborate more efficiently together as a team. It gave me insight toward understanding that in order to build a strong team, we need to understand each other’s’ compelling WHY and complement each other. We should work with each other and not against each other, to be the first to inspire and motivate, and change the course of an individual’s future.

Once we understand WHY we do this work, we can explore HOW we do it, create a plan and inspire the compelling WHY for others.

Kay Francesca Coelho-California GEAR UP

California Partnership Initiative (CPI): A Call to Action

“We should be complementary, and not in competition,” said Whole School Services Coach Brad Trimble, during the California Partnership Initiative meeting hosted by California State GEAR UP the first evening of the conference.  According to Shelley Davis, Director of California GEAR UP: “The initiative has been created to formalize the collaboration of the State GEAR UP program and GEAR UP partnership projects.  This statewide effort will strengthen our network and build upon our good work in service to schools, students, families and communities.  We must be intentional about working together to improve school culture and to ensure college and career readiness for all students.”

CPI was designed in response to the national call for GEAR UP programs to operate more co-operatively within regions, to create a support network of professionals with similar work, challenges, and programatic goals. A long standing component of GEAR UP has been innovation and creative program design.

“I feel it is important for the California GEAR UP programs to collaborate because together we can achieve more. We strengthen each other, learn from each other, and provide support for each other. I have 30 years of experience with college access programs, including TRIO, and I know that these programs and the staff who provide direct services would not have been as effective as they are without collaboration and support from other programs staff. We cannot operate in silos. We can create bigger and more lasting change together;  we can influence people, especially policy makers, together.  Ultimately this collaboration will benefit our students, our families, and our State.”

Sue B. Huizinga–Associate Director, Regional Services College OPTIONS/GEAR UP Programs


Photo: Palomar College GEAR UP Team at CPI Meeting

CPI will follow up with plans to meet at the National GEAR UP Conference in July in San Francisco.  For more information on the State GEAR UP programs and GEAR UP partnership projects check out the interactive map on our website at www.castategearup.org

Sessions Designed by and for Attendees

In the true spirit of capacity building, tracks were selected based on the feedback from the 2014 CBW and in direct response to identified needs of GEAR UP program participants.  Ahead of the conference, all registrants responded to a series of questions and surveys that directed the content and format of the available sessions.

The 2015 CBW workshop tracks were as follows: The Directors’ Network, GEAR UP 101, Parent Engagement, Evaluation Showcase, Grant Management, Advancing College Readiness, Strategies for First-Year Post-Secondary Success, The Coordinators’ Catalyst Network, Helping Students Earn College Credit in High School, and Closing Gaps in STEM Learning and Careers.  The CBW also offered five general sessions and several roundtable discussion sessions.

Directors Track

“I was fortunate to co-facilitate a Roundtable session with the program director from Massachusetts GEAR UP, Robert Dais. We chose an open space format that flowed very well as participants discussed common challenges and successes across four areas of our work as State programs. Even though the session was on the last day and just before lunch, the room was full and energy was high with lots of sharing.  We collected ideas from this session that will be shared with NCCEP and with our program in regional events and through the California Partnership Initiative.  We all bring teams from our staffs to this conference and bring back valuable information, tools and ideas, many of which stem from professional connections made with other participants from throughout the country.”

Shelley Davis-California GEAR UP 


Photo:  Participants enjoy networking at the conference

Roundtable discussions are among the most flexible format offered at the conference, and may look quite different from session to session. The one thing that they have in common is that each allows for extended discussion among a small group. Roundtables are excellent venues for giving and receiving targeted feedback, having in-depth discussions, and meeting colleagues with similar interests. Grantees from CA were very impressed with this format and felt the discussion allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of their work while learning from the professionals in the room. Many remarked this was the highlight of the conference as it helped them learn while creating a network that will support them in their work at home.

Materials and other information from the conference sessions are found on the NCCCEP website.