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NVCC and WPS Launch New GEAR UP Collaboration for 8th Graders

Students at Waterbury Arts Magnet School

Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) and Waterbury Public Schools (WPS) have partnered with Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) to implement the second, federally-funded Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program for current 8th grade Waterbury students. GEAR UP staff from NVCC and WPS began collaborating with district administrators, teachers and staff to plan the program details in the fall of 2020. The program is ready to launch with a robust schedule of mentoring, workshops and events for students and their families through the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. The state of Connecticut received this seven-year, $25.8 million GEAR UP grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2019-2020; the previous GEAR UP program ran from 2012-2019. NVCC is one of three Connecticut community colleges collaborating with local public schools to implement the program. In partnership with WPS, NVCC is working toward the GEAR UP goal of helping students prepare for the rigors of a college education. The program serves all current 8th graders through their graduation from high school as the Class of 2025 and into their first year of college.  

With GEAR UP funding, NVCC and WPS will prepare all 8th grade students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Through this alliance, students from high-need areas will receive early college awareness and support activities such as tutoring, mentoring, academic preparation, financial education and college scholarships to improve access to higher education for students and their families. 

The program serves over 1,500 students and their families as they transition to high school and prepare for the college admissions process. The GEAR UP staff includes program coordinators and mentors at each school who work with a GEAR UP Family and Community Liaison to engage parents and guardians in the process.  

NVCC CEO, Lisa Dresdner, Ph.D. is delighted that this GEAR UP grant allows NVCC and WPS to continue a partnership that serves students. “I know that the additional supports and structures from GEAR UP benefit the students in the best possible ways,” said Dresdner. 

Former Wilby High School student, Brendan Buzak, shared the impact that the GEAR UP program has had on his education. Buzak, a current NVCC student, said “The GEAR UP Program was always there to help me and to reassure the confidence I needed in my academics. GEAR UP provided me with so many opportunities to prepare me for post-secondary education like college tours, pre-college, college level courses and even help with the college application process. GEAR UP was the opportunity that kept on giving and opening the doors to a future of success and more opportunities! I’m truly grateful for The GEAR UP Program.” 

“Early awareness and access to highly rigorous courses and support are critically important as we strive to implement Portrait of a Graduate and assure our students are college and career ready,” said WPS Superintendent Dr. Verna D. Ruffin. 

Waterbury Arts Magnet School Principal, Nick Albini, noted “We are delighted, in partnership with Naugatuck Valley Community College, to offer this program to our 8th grade Waterbury students. GEAR UP enhances, strengthens and highlights our commitment to prepare students for post-secondary education and career opportunities.” 

NVCC GEAR UP Project Director, Megan Houlihan-Aceto, has been with NVCC and the GEAR UP program for the past five years and commented “Waterbury GEAR UP has made a difference in students' lives, providing them with the preparation and support needed to succeed in high school and beyond under the first grant. Within this new grant, Waterbury GEAR UP, Naugatuck Valley Community College and Waterbury Public Schools continue to offer invaluable services to our entire 8th-grade cohort of students and families as they move forward with their education. We look ahead to working with our partners over the next five years to create greater access, preparation and awareness of college options for our students.” 


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Waterbury, CT 06702
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