Davis County School District is one of 13 districts selected as partners in applying for a GEAR UP grant to begin this fall, Iowa College Aid announced last week.

GEAR Up is a federal program to increase college and career access and readiness for low-income, minority, and first-generation students.

If Iowa receives the grant, it will be the state’s third.

GEAR UP Iowa, administered by Iowa College Aid, supports students and families from seventh grade through the first year of college. The program helps schools provide services that include college and career exploration, academic support, “soft skill” development, and assistance with college and financial aid applications.

GEAR UP Iowa also places coaches in schools and provides resources for school counselors and other staff.

When GEAR UP Iowa students enroll in college, they receive a scholarship.

GEAR UP Iowa 1.0 received a $16.8 million matching grant to serve the high school class in 2014 in 17 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 2.0 received $22.4 million to serve the high school class of 2020 in 12 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 3.0, pending approval of the grant, is expected to serve the high school class of 2027 in Cedar Rapids, Centerville, Clinton, Columbus Junction, Davenport, Davis County, Denison, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Saydel, South Tama, and Storm Lake.

These 13 districts encompass about 6,300 students who will be in seventh grade this fall. Centerville, Davis County, Saydel, and South Tama are new to GEAR UP Iowa; the others are returning from 2.0. For a district to take part, at least half its students must qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“Our goal is to make college more accessible to underserved students, and we have data showing that GEAR UP works,” said Dr. Mark “Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “Studies of our first two grants show that GEAR UP Iowa students are more likely to apply to college, apply for financial aid, and to go to college than their non-GEAR UP peers. They also have higher standardized test scores and higher high school attendance rates. We’re optimistic about receiving a third grant and excited to extend these benefits to a new group of Iowa students.”

Becky Zesiger, Director of Instruction for Davis County Schools, said the grant will follow next fall’s seventh grade class and help create awareness of post-secondary options for those students.

“There will be career exploration opportunities and possible campus visits for the entire class as freshmen,” she said. “The program will help kids with career options and assist them in accessing scholarship opportunities.”

Zesiger said GEAR UP Iowa will also assist parents filling out financial aid forms for the first time and help students with savings options.

Davis County’s program will be in partnership with IHCC, which will provide specific scholarships for GEAR UP students.

Zesiger said the program is targeted toward students who are the first to go on to post-secondary programs in their families.

“It’s a great thing for kids,” she said. “It’s exciting for seventh graders. The activities they take part in may also be used for other students as well, even though they are not part of the program.”

Davis County’s GEAR UP curriculum will consist of mini-courses offered to students and families along with some schoolwide activities that will help students prepare for the future.