The Bronx Institute at Lehman College, which works to improve educational opportunities and quality of life in the borough, has been awarded a seven-year $12.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help prepare low-income public school students for college and subsequent career success.
The funding will support the Institute’s largest program, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), which provides mentoring and other services to a cohort of sixth- and seventh-grade students at eight local middle schools. The program follows the students over seven years, guiding them through high school, into college or skills training, and ultimately into the workforce. The Bronx Institute expects to support 2,175 students through 2028.
It will be joined in that effort by 13 community organizations and institutions that have pledged to contribute an additional $17.7 million in in-kind early intervention and academic support services. They include the program’s returning partners, the New York City Department of Education, Brown University, Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Bronx Zoo, Con Edison, BronxNet, SEEDS Training and the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center. New partners Genesys Works and Kura Labs are also coming aboard this year.
“The program is an example of how Lehman College works with the wider community to create environments of support and encouragement that accelerate student success in the Bronx,” said Lehman College President Fernando Delgado. “We all benefit when young people in the borough are given opportunities to make the most of their gifts.”
GEAR UP is part of a national initiative bearing the same name that the Education Department started in 1999. To increase the number of low-income students entering and succeeding in postsecondary education, the department began awarding six- and seven-year competitive discretionary grants to states and institutional partnerships to provide services at under-resourced middle schools and high schools.
This is the seventh GEAR UP grant the Bronx Institute has received from the Education Department in the past two decades, for a grand total of $75.3 million. The Institute is one of just a handful of organizations to win several distinct grants under the initiative, according to Herminio Martinez, professor of Middle and High School Education at Lehman College and the Bronx Institute’s executive director.
The Bronx Institute has used GEAR UP funding to provide afterschool and Saturday instruction, SAT and Regents test preparation, STEM-focused enrichment activities, college-level coursework through AP and dual enrollment, college planning and exposure experiences and internship/leadership activities.
It also hosts special activities to increase student and parent knowledge about high school graduation requirements, the costs and benefits of college, and how best to access these opportunities. Furthermore, it offers teachers professional development using evidence-based strategies in English language arts (reading and writing), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) content areas and college access, said Martha Atencio, the Institute’s assistant director.
Over the years, more than 20,000 students have been served and some 1,500 teachers have received training, according to the Institute.
The Institute’s partners bring a range of additional offerings to the table. For example, Harvard University will provide scholarships for qualified students in GEAR UP to participate in the Harvard Summer Residential Program, while the American Museum of Natural History will provide a STEM instructional program in astronomy, astrophysics, geology and anthropology, and offer internships for select students.
Kura Labs and Genesys Works will help provide career development and workforce training in fields such as computing and technology. And Con Edison subject matter experts will share their knowledge of the utility field and how STEM is involved in their day-to-day activities, according to Atencio.
“This is a magnificent opportunity for us to do some meaningful work with middle and high school students,” Martinez said. “We’re providing a bridge to the world of work and society.”
In addition, the New York Botanical Garden, which has long worked with the Institute, will continue to offer programs designed to help students learn about the planet’s rich biological diversity and get hands-on experience in applied conservation.
“The New York Botanical Garden is thrilled to learn that The Bronx Institute at Lehman College has won this GEAR UP award,” said Tai Montanarella, the NYBG’s associate director of School and Out-of-School programs. “In partnership over a decade, it’s a privilege to cultivate career pathways for the next generation of scientists, horticulturists, and educators.”
Looking ahead to 2028, Martinez said the work of the Institute was meaningful for him, a native of Havana, Cuba, who immigrated to America as a child in the early ’60s via Operation Peter Pan.
“This is personal to me,” Martinez said. “Throughout my life, I’ve met people who were helpful in small and big ways. In some ways, a little bit of information can transform a person’s life. That’s all it takes to make a difference.”