The U.S. Department of Education issues a grant award of nearly $1.2 million to sustain the college’s work with thousands of high school students in four North County school districts.

SAN MARCOS — A groundbreaking Palomar College program that helps prepare middle and high school students for college has received a grant renewal from the U.S. Department of Education, ensuring the work at four local high school campuses will continue into 2021.

The $1,190,400 grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support GEAR UP classrooms that serve more than 3,300 students at Vista High, Rancho Buena Vista High, Fallbrook High and Valley Center High.

“GEAR UP is doing the crucial work of reaching the college students of tomorrow and supporting them in their educational journey while they’re still in high school,” said Palomar’s Interim Superintendent/President, Dr. Jack Kahn. “This grant continuation shows that GEAR UP has been effective in promoting higher education in our district.”

The program started in 2016, when the current cohort of GEAR UP students were in middle school, and is scheduled to continue through 2023, with funding reviewed and approved annually.

“Our continued funding is based on our annual performance every year,” explained GEAR UP Project Director Joe LeDesma.

Objectives that must be met to continue grant funding include, for example, that participating students meet their academic requirements and progress to the next grade level.

LeDesma said Palomar’s GEAR UP program was approved for continuing funding despite a challenging learning environment due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Under normal circumstances, GEAR UP provides opportunities for students to visit college and university campuses, interacting with leadership groups and learning about academic programs. The program provides tutoring, which typically takes place in designated classrooms at participating schools, is now virtual.

“We’re serving the students remotely right now,” said LeDesma, adding that the program’s goals have not changed: “We want to increase the enrollment in rigorous courses, increase high school graduation rates, and promote successful enrollment in postsecondary education. We also want to increase college degrees, and provide any access to financial assistance for postsecondary education.”