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Mt. Wachusett CC Gets $4.5M Grant to Help Fitchburg Students GEAR UP for College

October 11, 2018

FITCHBURG -- Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg Public Schools have received $4.5 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education that will help over 800 students get more out of high school and navigate the path to college.

The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs initiative will provide comprehensive support to students directly within the Fitchburg Public Schools through academic counseling, tutoring, mentoring, community service opportunities, academic workshops and activities, college tours, college and career awareness and readiness activities, and financial aid planning. All this work is done with the goal of assisting students in preparing for and attending college.

This seven-year grant will follow all members of the classes of 2025 and 2024 enrolled in the Fitchburg Public Schools beginning in sixth and seventh grade, respectively. This grant provides supports to all those students through their high school graduation and through the first year of college for the class of 2024. The total number of students served will be 837 in years one through six and 640 in year seven. Services to students will begin this year.

“I’m excited that we can renew our partnership with Mount Wachusett Community College, Fitchburg State University and others to provide educational opportunities for our students starting in the seventh grade and continuing through high school. Partnerships and collaboration with MWCC are vital today as few schools could undertake this initiative on their own,” said Fitchburg’s acting Superintendent of Schools Robert Jokela. “This grant provides students the support to improve their lives after high school here at Fitchburg public schools. Participating students and their families will both be better prepared for post-secondary education and options on how to transfer that education into a rewarding career.”

This marks the fourth time that MWCC has received a GEAR UP grant to work with the Fitchburg Public Schools. GEAR UP operated for 21 consecutive years through MWCC in Fitchburg, but was not funded last year.

GEAR UP has resulted in numerous successes in the past, with measurable results in the Fitchburg Public School system. In 2017, 95 percent of GEAR UP Fitchburg high school seniors graduated from high school, which was 8.7 percent above the baseline graduation rate. In the 2016 GEAR UP graduating class, post-secondary enrollment was 54.4 percent, 10.9 percent above the baseline rate.

“This long-term program has a lasting impact on the students we serve. But it is not only a boon to them, but also their family and the greater community. Everyone benefits when higher education is made more attainable,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven. “I am so pleased we have received this grant and have the opportunity to work with all our partners once again to ease the transition into post-secondary education for these students in Fitchburg. We could not do this without all of our partners, both locally and in Washington, D.C.”

The GEAR UP funding is voted on by congress, with the funds then being distributed by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Funding for the GEAR UP program is highly competitive. This award is a testament to the innovative and successful work at Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg Public Schools to ensure that every student has an opportunity to work hard and achieve a better future,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester. “GEAR UP funding works, and this new grant will arm students and their families with the tools they need for success ñ in college and beyond.”

The schools participating in the GEAR UP project are: Arthur M. Longsjo Middle School, Memorial Intermediate Middle School, and McKay Arts Academy (all serving grades 6-8) and two high schools that graduates from these schools go on to attend: Fitchburg High School and Fitchburg Public Schoolís alternative education school for students at-risk of dropping out Goodrich Academy.

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