Interview with Hajra Saeed, GEAR UP Site Contact at Hudson Middle School
What motivated you to volunteer to be the GEAR UP Site Contact at Hudson?
I have always been interested in seeing students grow to their full potential, no matter what their circumstances. Many middle school students at Hudson never visualized themselves as ever attending college, so when my principal, Cathleen Imbroane, told us about GEAR UP coming to our school, I was very excited. She asked me if I would like to be the site contact and I accepted because I knew that the goals of GEAR UP were important for our students and that we have a great staff that would jump on board to create a college-going culture at Hudson.
As the Site Contact you have assumed a leadership role with fellow Leadership Team members as well as the faculty and staff. What has stood out to you as highlights of serving in this role and being the GEAR UP champion/cheerleader at Hudson?
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that a college-going culture is not just accidentally created by good people working together. GEAR UP has taught me that a conscientious effort must be made on a consistent basis to instill the confidence in our students that they have the ability to pursue a post-secondary education. As a team, we first created a plan to change the mindset of our staff using professional development articles provided by GEAR UP. Then, we moved on to creating activities for students and parents that would foster the culture we were trying to cultivate. 100% of our middle school teachers participate in the activities with their classes, even though the activities sometimes may interfere with their regular classroom schedules. I am extremely grateful to have a staff that is both cooperative and enthusiastic. Another highlight is that more parents are attending workshops, and are thus better informed about how to help their children in school. We are fortunate to be a K-8 school and can begin fostering the college mindset from a young age. Having parents attend the PIQE and CEP workshops doesn’t just help the individual students, but empowers entire families.
What has been a challenge that you have encountered as Site Contact and how did you tackle it?
During our Institute in 2014, our Leadership Team discussed that even after 3 years, many staff members still do not really know what GEAR UP was doing at our school. They were aware that we had a GEAR UP Week in September and that we organized the March Spirit Week every year. Beyond that they did not have any clear understanding. So, our Leadership Team worked on a document that listed all of the activities at our school that serve as outreach to parents and help to create a college-going culture. Then, our facilitator Heather Mills shared that information with each individual middle school department (Humanities, Tech Core, Spanish, Art) at their planning meetings. Now that they have actually seen everything that GEAR UP does at our school on paper, they have a greater sense of pride as a GEAR UP school and a better understanding of why GEAR UP is so important.
How has participating in California GEAR UP contributed to the college going culture at Hudson?
I am so excited with how much Hudson has changed over the last few years! Students are much more knowledgeable about post-secondary education and they all feel it is within their reach. During morning announcements, they proudly announce their future major and the college they wish to attend. They participate competitively in the GEAR UP activities from door contests to college and career fashion shows. More students wear college gear on Fridays as well. Before, there were just college pennants hanging up in the classrooms, but now students are able to articulate their future plans and discuss pathways to reach their personal goals. They also look forward to planned activities, because now that they have participated for the last two years, new traditions have been created at our school. Students on campus are already buzzing about how they are going to outdo the other classrooms in the college fashion show in February or how they can make their classroom door the best door for the competition.
Teachers also participate more and more enthusiastically in competitions every year. We have created new traditions at our school, and now teachers are asking in advance about activities planned for spirit week. For March Madness this year, our teachers have already chosen their colleges, and many of them are already planning for and organizing materials for the door contest that is two months away because they want to have the best door!
And finally, entire families have become empowered. Parents see that their children have plans beyond high school and they want to learn more about how to facilitate in their children’s education to allow their dreams to materialize.
By giving us planning time to change the culture of our school, GEAR UP has helped us make great changes. Without the extra time and resources, many of these plans would be difficult to develop and get started. Also, the professional development offered by GEAR UP has helped the Leadership Team transform Hudson into a college-going culture.
What instructional practices or other activities have been enhanced as a result of team (or personal) learning at Institutes, Forums or other GEAR UP events?
Being an International Baccalaureate school, our staff has always had extra time set aside for collaboration. However, when we read the articles at the Institutes, we were given tools to change the norms at our school. Our collaborative norms have changed at our school and our teachers have become better communicators during planning time. Also, our lunchtime and spirit activities have become more meaningful and worthwhile to staff and students because of GEAR UP Institutes and Forums. When we attend those events, we have opportunities to learn about what other schools are doing to create a college-going culture. We have gained fresh, new ideas to incorporate into our existing activities at Hudson.
How do you see your work in the role impacting you personally?
I have learned a lot in this role as site contact. It has taught me how to effectively work with staff members to create a change in culture. Also, having the parent component as part of GEAR UP has taught me more strategies on how to engage parents in their children’s learning. I always look forward to the GEAR UP Leadership Team meetings and trainings because I know that my time will be well spent. Our team works so well together, and knowing that my time is not wasted on something that doesn’t work makes me look forward to GEAR UP activities. It gives me sense of purpose beyond just the classroom curriculum guides and pacing charts.
What is the Leadership Team doing to ensure the sustainability of the GEAR UP mindset at Hudson?
Our Leadership Team has strong representatives from each school stakeholder. They are effective in going back to the groups they represent and sharing information. Since all staff members participate in GEAR UP activities, there is a greater possibility of sustainability of a college-going culture. Now that we have college-going activities and traditions in place, the school culture has changed. These activities will continue to drive the school forward toward its vision of success for all. This past year our site created a California Junior Scholarship Federation (CJSF) chapter. This will also perpetuate the GEAR UP mindset because students are aware that their membership in this prestigious organization is something they can add on to their college applications. So, they are not just talking about college and making plans, but also taking steps to create an academic resume for college applications.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
I just want to say that I feel so blessed for having such an amazing Leadership Team. My principal Cathleen Imbroane supports everything we do, and without her we wouldn’t have been able to make the shifts that we have made. Our facilitator and parent Heather Mills, Language Arts Teacher Alisia Ono, Math Teacher Anastasia Hubbard, and our Counselor Ross Morinaga are always enthusiastic team players. And on a final note, we could not have asked for a better coach, Mary Unverferth. She works so hard to guide and coordinate our team’s efforts. It is a true pleasure to work with them towards creating a college-going culture! Hudson is a wonderful school and it is an honor to be a part of it. Go Hawks!