A&M International Launches $6.9 million 'Creating a Vision' GEAR-UP Grant

A new $6.9 million federally funded five-year collaborative project at Texas A&M International University hopes to make sure that going to a University is first and foremost in the minds of low-income students here.

The new program, "Creating A Vision," was launched with a press conference and reception at the University's Great Room Thursday attended by project Partners and future students.

A&M International president Dr. Charles Jennett said the program is a remarkable offering which will brighten student futures and noted the significance of the award being announced during National College Week, which encourages colleges and universities to provide all students the opportunity to succeed.

"This program will help to change the futures of Laredo students through a remarkable collaboration that will accelerate their learning, insure their success at the University level and help them to graduate and become a part of the human capital needed to power our city's, region's and state's continued success. We look forward to making this vision real," Dr. Jennett said.

"Creating A Vision" is part of the federal government's Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) created by the Higher Education Amendments of 1998 and aimed at providing services to low-income student populations through communities and States to create new and expanded plans that strengthen their schools.

The University will receive $476,695 for the first year of the "Creating a Vision" Grant, and has requested over $500,000 for each of the remaining four years, ending in 2005. The total project costs over the five year life of the project amounts to $6,980,179, of which the federal government will provide 37% of funding, with the partners providing the remaining 63% in financial support and in-kind assistance.

While the University will be the lead agency, the collaborative Partners will include Laredo Independent School District (Lamar Middle School, Memorial Middle School and Nixon High School), and United Independent School District (Clark Middle School and Alexander High School), Communities in Schools, Literacy Volunteers of America, ACT Southwest Region, and The College Board, Southwestern Regional Office.

The Partners worked closely with the University's director of grant resources, Sonia Casasnovas-Mangual, to identify the community's need and develop an engaging and collaborative approach to best address that need.

Dr. Julio F. Madrigal, A&M International professor and director of special programs for the University, will administer the program.

He said the program will be aiming to accelerate student achievement, improve curriculum, involve parents and encourage students to seek and complete post-secondary education.

"We'll be dedicating ourselves to accelerating the academic achievement of low income middle and secondary school students in financial need, so that increasing numbers will graduate, enroll and succeed in college or university. We're also going to target systemic changes to the curriculum so that other students can benefit while also working to secure a high level of parental involvement in encouraging their children to excel in school and seek a University degree," Dr. Madrigal explained.

Madrigal said the program will be delivered in three main components: teacher development and curricular revision, parental involvement, and direct program services to students.

"First, we'll work on teacher development and curricular revision at each school through vertical team staff development and a more vigorous Math and Reading sequence. We'll be working with Master teachers at our Partner schools and providing other teachers at these schools with Advanced Placement Institute training through Summer Institutes here at the University. Partner schools will also develop revised curricula which we hope can be implemented district-wide.

"Secondly, we'll be addressing parental involvement. Parent clubs will be established at each school, dubbed Leveraging a Unique Chance for my Kids (LUCK), and involving our other Partners, such as Literacy Volunteers of America and Communities in Schools in providing parents special support services.

"Third, the provision of direct services, includes continuous student mentoring and tutoring services, counseling and academic advisement and student scholarships. In addition, students will be involved in a summer program stressing remediation, enrichment and career exploration," Madrigal said.

The A&M International program is the only new GEAR UP program funded for Laredo and is one of $45.6 million in new grants funded nationwide that will help more than 710,000 disadvantaged middle-school students pursue college educations.

For the past year, the University has been collaborating with The Texas A&M University System GEAR UP Program, which is housed on the A&M International campus, and expects that the benefits gained from this collaboration will further enrich its project.

In announcing the grant, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley noted that GEAR UP is about preparing for a brighter future.

"GEAR UP shows students that the key to college is preparation, and with financial aid, college can be affordable," Secretary Riley said.

Through the program, middle schools form partnerships with community and business organizations, and local universities, to provide students and their families with support services to prepare for college. GEAR UP offers academic preparation and advanced course work to each class of participating students from the sixth or seventh grades through high school.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Madrigal at 326.2720, visit the Office of Special Programs located in Killam Library 332 or email to jfmadrigal@tamiu.edu.

University office hours are from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at pais@tamiu.edu