GAINING EARLY AWARENESS AND READINESS FOR UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS (GEAR UP)

A vibrant future

In the profession of education we are often surrounded by talent, academic brilliance, curiosity, motivation and a drive to make those four years of high school a platform that can catapult young scholars to a future of their own! With GEAR UP, this reality can be easily enhanced and shaped to meet those goals with purpose. And, sometimes it is as easy as watching students blossom and take off with what we share and encourage.

Amber I. Gama is a perfect example of a rising scholar willing to pave a path that is rigorous, relevant and aimed to a four year University! She got to Chiawana High School excited and eager to be noticed in the classroom. She decided that applying for AVID would be a good start. It was. Through the AVID classroom she has learned to ask clarifying questions, believe in rigor and relevance through academics and ultimately stay organized. These skills have taken off and is quite easy to notice as Miss Gama has a healthy GPA and was now looking for more. As she looked for more, she found WSU TC GEAR UP!

GEAR UP is honored to be around such a vibrant scholar with such high aspirations for post secondary educational opportunities. Immediately after understanding the GEAR UP program, she decided to become an ambassador. As an ambassador, AVID student and involved scholar she quickly started to build a college plan with our academic instructional specialist Okongo Sakamoto. This mentoring relationship is sure to succeed as they have already mapped out her Chiawana future in order to attend higher education and graduate on time. Amber is not sure where yet, but knows it will be in Washington State and has narrowed her search to WSU, UW, Seattle University, Gonzaga and EWU! So exciting….

As she spends her summer relaxing and enjoying life, Amber is ready to return in the fall and begin to prepare for her PSAT, scholarship search and narrow down her community service to suit her academic direction to college. Never afraid of a challenge, this young lady even left school for a whole month to visit family in Mexico. A common story, but she prepared her work and returned with it all done and no gap in her GPA or academic planning. This young lady is truly special and one of the best we have seen come through the GEAR UP program. Thank you Amber and good luck this summer.

GEAR UP's Talon Room

For young scholars trying to succeed in high school there are many opportunities to get involved with on campus and really become an aspiring person.  From key club to deca, or speech and debate to drama, Chiawana High School is active around the clock.  It is an honor to add GEAR UP to this mix of amazing; moreover, a place where scholars can call home.  For current freshmen and sophomores the Talon Room is quickly becoming a place to  know!  A place where students can gain academic skills, find an accommodating location to do some schoolwork, ask a tutor for clarification in most every subject, watch upper classmen finalize college scholarships and applications, start collegiate planning and even catch the bug to become a GEAR UP ambassador.  A home with a fridge, microwave, sink and books they can call their own is rapidly growing in both attendance and participation thanks to a continued college going culture here in the Riverhawk Nation!  Aside from the resources they can flourish in, rising students are beginning to ask the right questions around an all encompassing post secondary educational future.  When is the next college campus visit, how do we find scholarships, is the SAT or ACT better, college is expensive; how do we pay, where should I go and so forth.  All the right questions to ask in an oh so productive environment.  As always, we are excited to start the college planning phases with students in hopes that along the way they enjoy the ride and become team mates and colleagues through higher education one day soon.  Some will stick to one plan and others will change it a few times.  But, one thing is for sure and consistent.  GEAR UP will be here to help advise and support you through your senior year.  Good luck and keep it coming.  We love it!

From GEAR UP to College

At times it is difficult to say goodbye, so we won’t.  Instead, we will sound the alarm, prepare some food and welcome our seniors to a future of their own.  The past four years have proven to be fun, daunting, challenging, exhilarating and much more.  But, most of all, it has been a high school career worth sharing with the world.  As a freshmen, the new environment can be quite intimidating for that first semester.  This is where GEAR UP blossoms.  It was that freshmen year that we began to introduce scholars to our Talon Room and official GEAR UP program.  A holistic academic learning environment and center that mimics a college hub, where students early on learn that we are a team of young professionals willing to navigate the academic waters with intent and an end in mind! This end is COLLEGE.  After a nice early introduction and college exploration, it was time to get started.  For the next two years eager scholars began to look for any opportunity to go visit a college campus, some with great intent and others for exploration.  Many began to participate in after school & academic understanding programs, our ambassador and peer mentor teams, search for any and all scholarship opportunities, job shadow and really get after paving a college path for not only themselves, but for the entire family.  Throughout this process many of our students changed interests, college choices, explored majors/minors and some even realized that what they thought would work, in the end, was a completely different case.  All in all, they learned and grew to become ready for their senior year.  As the last of four years arrived, they looked a little nervous.  Eager, but nervous!  We were quickly trending with writing letters of recommendation, college application deadlines, SAT/ACT skills development, scholarship applications and  campus visits to make the last minute decisions work.  Wow, it was really here.  The time to guide and help them make the best choice for a college fit due to financing, distance, college majors and minors, meal plans, orientation sessions and finally choosing a place to call home for years to come.  Finally, it is nice to share that most all students searching for college through GEAR UP made it happen.  With some relevance, advising, clarification and working together, we were able make college a plan, not a dream.  But hey, dreams are cool; and with this one, you can pinch yourself and be on time for the next class on a campus that was earned, not given.  CONGRATULATIONS Riverhawks.  Come back and see us over the Thanksgiving break this fall.  We miss you and good luck.

GEAR UP Riverhawk looks forward to college

Outgoing, inspiration and diligent are just a few things Vanesa Romero shares with her fellow student as well as our staff. Vanessa is a very dedicated student who puts her academics first. She is a senior here at Chiawana High and is a part of our GEAR UP ambassadors. Vanesa is also involved in key club, link crew and the Nation Honor Society. She has been able to manage her person responsibilities as well as her school work. Vanesa is a great example of a determined student. She has proved to herself that she can achieve anything and that fighting for a brighter future is worthwhile. I am really proud to say I was able to be a part of her successful journey.

Vanesa has been accepted to attend WSU Tri-Cities this fall. She wants to pursue a degree in the medical field and one day she will come back to server her community as a doctor. She would like to pave the way for her younger sibling and show to others,“ Si, se puede” (Yes, it is possible.)  Vanesa constantly utilizes our resources and helps market our program to other students. Displaying a helpful and energetic attitude towards any task given, always made her performs shine.

Two important aspects she learned from GEAR UP are college readiness and awareness, as well as preparing and searching for college information. Vanessa has mostly enjoyed being the president of the GEAR UP Ambassadors and the different leadership roles she been in. Vanesa has been able to create relationships with the WSU Tri-cities representatives and has utilized in great portions.

I asked Vanessa why school was important to her and she said, “ I want to have a better future and education will get me there. I will be the first one to attending a university and I hope my younger sibling will follow my footsteps.” We all support Vanessa and we are all confident that she will continue to be successful in all her goals. Vanessa not only inspires her classmates, but she also inspires us as a staff  to keep pushing our student to set goals and follow their dreams. 

The OchoWana Experience

February 28th through March 2nd 12 Chiawana GEAR UP students from Ochoa Middle School and Chiawana High School attended the annual Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP) Conference in Tacoma, Washington. Led by Site Director Rafael De Leon in partnership with Chiawana Counselor Florentino Barrera, teacher Amanda Ramirez and GEAR UP Academic Instructional Specialist Kasey Manning, students attended the conference with the mission that they would leave feeling empowered and with knowledge of the power of higher education.

Arriving early Thursday afternoon after a long trip from Pasco, students checked-in to Tacoma’s Murano Hotel where the conference was held. They were greeted by LEAP volunteers and staff. After arriving, students listened to opening speaker Leobardo Carmona, a recent high school graduate and high achieving student. Leobardo set the tone for the conference – encouraging students to work hard, despite any adversity, and believe in the opportunity of higher education. Students left the opening ceremony inspired and were invited to attend a variety of workshops such as: “Improving the Educational Systems to be Inclusive of DREAMers,” “Transition for Student to Professional,” and “Be the Solution: Becoming a Change Agent in Your School, Community, and Career” to name a few.

Chiawana students Kimberly Ruesga, Lizette Parra, and Maria Yepez attended a session called “The Power of Digital Storytelling – Creative Ways to be Heard and Create Change.” The students viewed examples and learned techniques to develop their own digital stories. When asked what they thought of the session, they said that it was meaningful. They left the session feeling empowered and encouraged to share their concerns and stories to benefit their communities and peers at Chiawana. Specifically, the students thought of ways they could use their new knowledge to “relieve the pressure on students to do drugs at school.” It was impressive to see students excited to enact positive change.


On Friday, the team traveled to Olympia, along with Ochoa Middle School 8th graders and GEAR UP Site Director Mario Miranda and Student Success Specialist Lidia Torres. In the state capitol students met with local State Representatives Maureen Walsh and Terry Nealy, as well as State Senator Mike Hewitt. Students were encouraged to share their concerns and inform legislators of issues that impact them most in their communities. Students raised concerns on topics including teen pregnancy, state testing and state financial aid for undocumented Washington residents. In addition to meeting with state legislators, students heard from Washington State Governor Jay Inslee as he voiced his support for advancement and empowerment for Latino/a students in Washington State.

After returning to Tacoma for dinner, students were addressed by Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, the first Mexican-American to serve in his role in the state of Washington. Justice Gonzalez’ speech was focused on encouraging students to pursue higher education as well as to validate Latino contributions and influence in Washington State. After Justice Gonzalez’ address, students enjoyed “Noche Cultural” where students from across the state were invited to celebrate by exhibiting their talents in music, poetry and dance.

The conference ended early Saturday morning with thanks. Students had gained meaningful knowledge of how the state government operates and awareness of how to effectively advocate for themselves, their families and communities. They listened to many people share stories of overcoming adversity and achieving success because of hard work, determination and education – stories similar to what our students experience. From speakers, community leaders and government officials our students were encouraged to advocate for themselves and their communities. GEAR UP students left the conference feeling validated and empowered.

However, the learning did not stop there! Our students took a brief, but powerful look into the University of Washington. Meeting up with former GEAR UP students was great, but, the fact that they were also huge peer mentors was a big plus. Rocio Olivera (Pasco GEAR UP) and Luisa Manzo (Moses Lake GEAR UP) gave our students a tour of campus and discussed the importance of higher education with students. Immediately, this was recognized as a huge academic milestone for all. Conversations revolved around tips and techniques to do well in high school, student life, scholarships, specialized programs and financial aid drove the tone.

By the end of our session, students were asking questions, curious and motivated to head back to Pasco to dominate the classroom setting. Overall the trip was a huge success. Thanks team!

WSU Tri-Cities
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WSU Early Outreach