The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has announced that Polk County Schools is the recipient of an $867,210 GEAR UP grant over the next six years. The grant funds will provide services to students and families with the aim of increasing enrollment and success in post-secondary education.

The funding is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant, which aims to increase the number of low-income students in Tennessee who are accessing and succeeding in higher education. Polk County Schools is one of 15 communities selected to receive funds. The communities were selected through a competitive application process by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the administrator of the state’s GEAR UP TN grant.

Polk County School’s Secondary Supervisor Jason Bell said, “I’m so excited to receive this grant because it directly correlates to our district goal of helping students have more success in life after they graduate high school.”

As part of the project, Polk County Schools will form a local, community-based GEAR UP TN Collaborative to provide college access and success-focused services to students at Polk County High School, Copper Basin High School, and Chilhowee Middle School. Students in the Class of 2023, who are currently in the seventh grade, will receive services as a cohort through middle school, high school, and their first year of postsecondary education.

Seniors at participating high schools will also receive direct services that will help them prepare for college and apply to postsecondary programs. Services will include one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, college visits, and financial aid counseling. GEAR UP TN will also provide students across the state of Tennessee with college and financial aid resources, including a college access and success website, CollegeforTN.org.

Each GEAR UP TN Collaborative includes formal partnerships with at least one middle school, one high school, a higher education institution, a local board of education and at least two community-based organizations. Partners will help implement grant activities and ensure that the momentum of college access work continues beyond the six-year grant. Polk County School’s GEAR UP TN Collaborative will partner with the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland State Community College, Lee University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Athens, and Pathways Southeast TN.

This is Tennessee’s third GEAR UP grant. Tennessee’s first GEAR UP TN project, which began in 2005, resulted in a 22.8 percent increase in college-going rates in the nine rural school districts. Communities served by Tennessee’s second GEAR UP TN grant, which began in 2012, have shown impressive results, including over 9 percentage points of growth in college-going rates since 2012. Tennessee was one of ten states awarded a GEAR UP grant as part of the 2017 competition.