Mayor Garcetti announces $11.2 million grant to launch ‘GEAR UP’ college readiness program

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti today announced an $11.2 million grant that will offer free tutoring, college and career counseling, financial aid advice, and other college readiness services to more than 2,000 middle school students in the L.A. Promise Zone and Promise Neighborhood. 

The U.S. Department of Education grant will form the L.A. Promise Zone Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), a partnership with the Youth Policy Institute (YPI) and the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. It will provide students at 16 schools with access to services from sixth grade through their first year of college.

“A child’s ZIP code should never be a barrier that puts the dream of a college education out of reach,” said Mayor Garcetti. “Every student in Los Angeles deserves the opportunities and resources they need to stay ahead in school, be prepared for higher learning, and plan for a fulfilling, successful career. GEAR UP will make that possible for thousands of young people in our communities.”

Mayor Garcetti made the announcement at the Helen Bernstein High School Complex in Hollywood, alongside Councilmember David Ryu, LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, LAUSD Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, Youth Policy Institute President/CEO Dixon Slingerland, and other local community leaders. 

Before the announcement, the Mayor attended a mentor workshop with sixth and twelfth graders, where he spoke with students about the importance of higher education. The GEAR UP launch coincided with the start of college application season, and several high school seniors submitted their college applications on site with the support of their peers, educators, and mentors.

“We know this can work because we’ve seen it work,” said Dixon Slingerland, President & CEO of the Youth Policy Institute, which will provide college counseling services and other academic supports through the GEAR UP grant, as well as administer the grant overall. “Students in GEAR UP classes have already demonstrated dramatic gains in proficiency, with schools increasing by as much as 20 percentage points on standardized tests. And we know that the community schools model that includes GEAR UP works. When students look around their neighborhoods and face obstacles on the path to success, we’re here to level the playing field.”

Mayor Garcetti has made expanding educational opportunity, especially for the city’s most vulnerable young people, a top priority since taking office. Since 2013, Los Angeles has attracted federal investments of $311 million in grants for the Promise Zone area — with the funds reaching 47 schools, 50 community partners, and 165,000 residents with a total investment value that matches the other 21 Promise Zones in the nation combined. The Los Angeles Promise Zone serves five culturally diverse Los Angeles neighborhoods: Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Westlake, and Pico-Union. And last year, Los Angeles became the first and only city in America with two Promise Zones — after a second designation was awarded to cover a large swath of South L.A.

“Getting to college, let alone paying for it, isn't easy — and if we are going to succeed as a City, we must allow these kids the tools to succeed as students,” said Councilmember Ryu, Chair of the Health, Education and Neighborhood Council Committee. “I am so proud of all our students, parents and teachers who work so hard and overcome such great challenges to reach post-secondary education. I want them to know — the City of Los Angeles recognizes those challenges, and is ready to invest in your future.”

“Dixon Slingerland and the entire team at YPI have proven that concentrated collaboration and innovation can lead to breakthroughs in any zip code,” said L.A. Unified Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, whose district includes the Hollywood and East Hollywood area. “I’m honored to represent the Los Angeles Promise Zone on the school board and I’m eager to see the next generation of impactful partnership for our students and communities.”

“On behalf of the students and families of L.A. Unified, I want to thank Mayor Garcetti, Mr. Slingerland and the Youth Policy Institute for this generous GEAR UP grant,” said L.A. Unified Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “Creating an ironclad pipeline from middle school to college helps ensure that all of our students are prepared for the rigors of college and are instilled with the desire to pursue a career and become productive members of the community.”

In addition to Promise Zones, the City of Los Angeles has taken a number of steps to expand educational opportunity through new programs and grant opportunities. Already, 4,000 students are enrolled in the first cohort of the LA College Promise, which provides free first-year community college tuition and other resources. The LA Cash for College program has connected nearly 10,000 students and their families to financial aid and college and career applications assistance every year. And FamilySource College Corners, 16 of which are in operation, provide college application assistance to high school students and their parents.