Fifty Pajaro Valley students awarded $2,000 scholarships for college

The path to college got a little smoother this week for 50 students from four Pajaro Valley Unified School District middle schools. Each student, participating in a UC Santa Cruz-sponsored early college-preparation program, was awarded a $2,000 college scholarship that will be held in trust for college.

Students from the following schools received awards:

- E. A. Hall Middle School (14 students)

- Lakeview Middle School (10 students)

- Rolling Hills Middle School (13 students)

- Pajaro Middle School (13 students)

Scholarships were awarded June 17 by the California Student Aid Commission. Recipients are participating in the Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) effort run by the Educational Partnership Center (EPC) at UC Santa Cruz. UCSC GEAR UP program officers who work in the four schools nominated students based on academic performance as well as conditions that impede student access to--and pursuit of--higher education.

"By introducing sixth graders to the possibility of college and focusing on improved math skills, we're able to help students get motivated and academically prepared for college before high school," said EPC Director Carrol Moran. "These scholarships give students a concrete college goal. By literally putting money in the bank, we address the financial barrier and give students a reason to work hard on their studies."

Scholarships will be held in trust until the students enroll in college within a year of high school graduation. GEAR UP will contact award recipients each year to track their progress and make sure they are receiving the support they need to realize their goal of attending college.

Rick Disemone, principal of Rolling Hills Middle School, credited the GEAR UP program with dramatically increasing college awareness among students.

"When you talked to the kids a couple years ago about their goals, their sights were on getting to the next course or subject, getting to the next grade," he said. "Now when you ask them, they say college, and they smile when they say it."

GEAR UP supports teachers by providing a college-awareness curriculum and offering training in mathematics. Parents are encouraged to help their children prepare for college, and students are eligible for tutoring by high school and college students. In addition, students get the opportunity to tour college campuses and enroll in residential programs that provide a sneak preview of college life.

"When the GEAR UP college-awareness curriculum was first introduced, the results were instantaneous," said Cheryl Aho, a school counselor at Pajaro Middle School. "The kids were all talking about college. I've seen how this has truly permeated the culture and community."

The UCSC GEAR UP program is in its third year of a five-year federal grant. The program serves Watsonville High School and its four feeder middle schools. The objective is to ensure that all students in Watsonville, starting at the sixth-grade level, are motivated and academically prepared

for college. According to a recent survey of graduating seniors, the number of Watsonville High School students attending four-year colleges doubled since the collaboration with UCSC's EPC started. The EPC provides program review support that helps teachers modify instruction, provides additional assistance for students in need, and evaluates the program.

Established in 1998, UCSC's EPC is the first stop for K-12 schools, community colleges, businesses, and community-based organizations interested in creating partnerships with the university. The center works with schools and community colleges in Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties and coordinates summer programs that accept students from all over the state.

In 2000, the EPC provided direct services, including mentoring, academic counseling, tutoring, leadership training, test preparation, academic enrichment, and math training, to more than 15,000 students. Results have been positive, with applications to UC campuses from students in the Santa Cruz/Monterey/San Benito region jumping 12.5 percent in 2001, the largest increase statewide, according to UC's Office of the President.