GEAR UP grant will help 5 local schools VSAC program encourages students to continue their education and training after high school

Five local schools are part of a sweeping $31 million, seven-year GEAR UP grant awarded to the Vermont Student Assistance Corp.
GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enroll and succeed in education and training after high school.
Through GEAR UP, VSAC works with 2,800 students at 38 middle and high schools across Vermont, including hundreds more GEAR UP students in their first year of college.
Local schools in the GEAR UP program include Colchester High School, Colchester Middle School, Winooski Middle School, Winooski High School and Richford Junior/Senior High School.
“When we can begin to shape the conversation about education and careers early, the future opens up for students in a way that is truly exciting,” said Beth O’Brien, principal. “At Richford Middle School, GEAR UP has helped dozens of our students start to dream big.”
VSAC counselors work with students individually and in groups, focusing on academic skill-building, study skills, class advising and tutoring as needed.
Students also receive information on career exploration, the college search and application assistance as well as in-depth financial aid information and help with submitting all aid forms. Students enrolled in the program also visit colleges and participate in summer programs.
“Students in the GEAR UP program get a much stronger sense of what classes they need to take and what they need to accomplish to successfully take the next step to college or career training,” said Allison Witherspoon, guidance director at Richford High School. “And the extra attention on financial aid resources, including the GEAR UP scholarship, makes it more manageable for families.”
The Vermont congressional delegation, led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), announced recently that Vermont Student Assistance Corp. will receive $31 million over the next seven years to encourage more Vermont students to continue their education and training after high school.
In a visit to VSAC, Leahy, who is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the GEAR UP grant makes it possible for more Vermonters to get the skills and education they will need for their future careers.
“I’ve led efforts in Congress to widen access to higher education by funding the GEAR UP program, boosting Pell Grant funding and streamlining the FAFSA to provide more financial aid. Vermont’s GEAR UP program, led by the talented counselors from VSAC, offers students and families the tools and information they need – and deserve – to build career opportunities. It’s why I have led the fight to preserve GEAR UP funding.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said access to affordable higher education should be open to all regardless of background.
“At a time when postsecondary education is more important than ever to get a decent-paying job, we must do everything possible to make sure every student has the information they need to further their education,” Sanders said. “Programs like GEAR UP prepare low-income and first-generation students for the education and training they need to be ready for the skilled jobs of the future. Because in the richest country in the world, everyone who has the ability and the desire should be able to get a higher education.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) has championed efforts in the U.S. House to improve accessibility and affordability in higher education. His bipartisan leadership has resulted in making federal financial aid more accessible and providing opportunity to more Vermonters.
“The skills and confidence that GEAR UP gives students will follow them well into the future. The opportunities are there for them to create strong educational pathways,” Welch said.
VSAC has been home to the GEAR UP program since its inception in 1999.
“This grant is great news for Vermont students and their opportunity to continue their education,” said Scott Giles, VSAC president and CEO. “I thank Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch for their continued efforts to make education equity a reality for all Vermonters. Access to education and training after high school is an essential component of reversing income inequality and creating career opportunities that will last a lifetime.”
More information on the Vermont state GEAR UP program is at