GEAR UP Iowa prepares Falcons for the future

Joseph Potts

Created by Joseph Potts from

Joseph Potts, Reporter

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness Undergraduate Programs, also known as GEAR UP, is a grant awarded to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission that began in the fall of 2014. The grant was about $22 million.

West is a part of  GEAR UP, a program to help low-income students to prepare for post-secondary education, such as college or trade school.

“The grant allows us to work with students in the graduating class of 2020, ” Associate Principal Charlie Driscoll said.

Gear Up is a seven-year program that will follow a group of about 6,300 students and will continue to follow them from as they go through school. The program was made to help prepare students for success in any job or college of their choosing. 

“I applied for the GEAR UP position and I got it. I’m guessing it was because I have a lot of experience working with diversity because I did teach in the very diverse city of New York City,” faculty advisor Sharon Casillas said.

Casillas oversees the GEAR UP grant at West. She does things like scheduling college visits, and providing students with any additional support they may need for them to be successful.

“I follow my students from ninth grade until they graduate, so I’m strictly working with the class of 2020,” Casillas said.

She does a variety of activities for the GEAR UP program like taking kids on college campus visits, where they can get an idea of what being on a college campus is like.

“I take the kids on college visits and we expose any kid that has never been on a college campus before. We can take them to college campuses to go on visits and see what it is like to be a college student,” Casillas said. “I also take kids to local businesses if they’re not interested in four year college. We can go and visit some other certificate programs like a welding program, so we’re visiting a lot of different places.”

GEAR UP also provides opportunities outside of the school year. There is a program in the summer for GEAR UP students to finish classes that they failed, so that the students do not have to take them the following year.

“I’m trying to help as many students graduate as possible, so if they are falling behind, they get invited to Catch Up Day and they can get more individualized help with their studies,” Casillas said.

There are different types of budgets linked to GEAR UP that pay for a tutoring program, a food budget that can provide students with snacks after school and for Catch Up Days, and free ACT prep classes.

“I took the PSAT just so I can be prepared for the actual SAT,” junior Mackenzi Rider said. “Just by preparing me for questions that would be on the SAT.”

The tutoring programs begin after school starts, Catch Up Days are twice a quarter, and ACT prep classes can be found on the website.

“Every year we have a plan that we have to follow. It tells us specifically what we have to do for that year. This is the amount that I can spend for everything, so I just have to watch out what I spend,” Casillas said. “And it is also not just up to me. I also have to answer to the administration for the budget.”

All the things that GEAR UP does, from field trips to after school programs, are to help students succeed. The main goal is to help students do well in school and achieve excellence in whatever career path they choose.

“I’m very fortunate that I can help them with whatever subject their struggling with and give them the resources they need to succeed,” Casillas said.