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MWCC Receives $4.5M GEAR UP Grant to Assist over 800 Fitchburg Students

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 (GEAR UP) program 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 (FPS) beginning in 6th and 7th 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 7th 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 Interim 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% 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.

“Young people are the future of this country, and the GEAR UP Grant is the right way to invest in that future,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Thanks to the great work of local schools, businesses and organizations in the Fitchburg Public School District, we can help over 800 kids not only graduate high school, but continue their education after high school. I applaud the effort to provide an opportunity for these students, and I look forward to seeing what their futures hold.”

“I am thrilled to see full funding for the GEAR UP partnership between Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg public schools. This collaboration is exactly the type of long-term community investment that supports middle and high school students on their path through graduation and sets them up for success in college. I commend Mount Wachusett for its commitment to Fitchburg students and am excited to follow the achievements of the classes of 2024 and 2025,” said Senator Edward J. Markey.

“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 Congressman Jim McGovern. “GEAR UP funding works, and this new grant will arm students and their families with the tools they need for success – in college and beyond.”

Additional partners in this grant are Fitchburg State University, the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, the MWCC Foundation, Rollstone Bank and Trust, Bay State Savings, Workers Credit Union, the Boys and Girls Club of Leominster & Fitchburg, Montachusett Opportunity Council, United Way Youth Venture, Spanish American Center, North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Fitchburg Police Department, Mass Insight Education and Research, the Shine Initiative, United Hmong of Massachusetts, and United Neighbors of Fitchburg. 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 School’s alternative education school for students at-risk of dropping out Goodrich Academy.