Local schools are only ones in county enrolled in program

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SHIPROCK — Students from Shiprock High School and Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School helped state education officials recognize National GEAR UP Week during an assembly today at the Chieftain Pit here.

The two schools are part of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Education designed to increase the number of low-income students going to postsecondary schools.

The Central Consolidated School District is among 11 school districts in the state that participate in GEAR UP, but Shiprock High and Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School are the only schools in the county enrolled in the program.

As students walked through the lobby today, they received T-shirts that carried the message, "College ready, career bound."

Shiprock Principal John Tohtsoni said the high school fulfills the purpose of GEAR UP by offering services such as tutoring, mentorship and visits by college recruiters to students.

During his comments, Tohtsoni asked staff members with a bachelor's degrees to stand.

"These are the people you're going to look up to. Because someday you're going to have an undergraduate degree, and you're going to lead our community, our nation forward," he said.

Melanie Granito, GEAR UP New Mexico state director, offered further advice to students. She encouraged middle school students who are struggling academically to seek help, then become students who are prepared for high school.

For those in high school, she said now is the time to think about the steps needed to graduate and to develop "a game plan" for postsecondary education.

"These launches are to make sure students are aware ... that they can, at no cost to them, take advantage of support on campus," Granito said in an interview after the assembly.

GEAR UP New Mexico is a division of the New Mexico Higher Education Department, which selected Shiprock High School to help recognize the state's part in the national celebration.

The state GEAR UP organization received $4.8 million from the U.S. Department of Education this school year and distributed approximately $300,000 to CCSD.

Granito said 70 percent of seniors at Shiprock applied to two or more colleges during the 2017-18 school year.

She added that same school year, 80 percent of students and parents demonstrated knowledge about financial aid and 50 percent completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to apply for financial aid for college or career schools.

Those percentages steadily have increased for Shiprock since CCSD enrolled in GEAR UP seven years ago, Granito said.

"We're an extra set of hands," she said about the initiative.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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