Texas GEAR UP
For the past decade, AMS Pictures has been collaborating with the Texas Education Agency on developing training, educational and motivational videos, print resources, outreach materials, websites and much more for the Texas GEAR UP Project. Our partnership with TEA is one of AMS’ longest-running and most treasured collaborations.
This program reaches a statewide audience and is shifting the perception around education by increasing college awareness and readiness for traditionally underserved students in grades 7-12. The endeavor also targets educators, parents and community members to help to build a complete college-going culture—and motivate all Texas students to aspire to and succeed in postsecondary education.
We have crafted a diverse array of tools for students, educators, counselors and parents on an assortment of topics integral to preparing middle- and high-school students for college and career success. From back in the early days when every counselor across the state was literally sent a giant GEAR UP toolkit via mail to the present day as we develop content to be accessed by students via mobile phone app, we’ve certainly come a long way.
After years of creating and distributing in-depth, multimedia college-readiness resources (in both English and Spanish), we launched a website in 2008 (www.texasgearup.com) designed to allow users to “build their own toolkit” at no charge. All the documentary-style videos and supporting print materials that had been developed for Texas GEAR UP were accessible in one place for the very first time—all available for streaming or downloading via a shopping cart feature. This “virtual library” allows counselors, teachers and administrators to find entire toolkits’ worth of materials, or just select the one or two resources they need at a time, making the tools easy to incorporate into presentations or info sessions. Since the site launched, we’ve had nearly 25,000 visitors and close to 2,500 videos downloaded and streamed. Overall, the response from users has been highly positive.
In 2010, AMS and Texas GEAR UP expanded our efforts and launched a website that speaks directly to student audiences (www.ownyourownfuture.com). The Own Your Own Future (OYOF) website is aimed at students in grades 7-12, speaking their language and offering them 3-5-minute scripted videos (plus shortened versions of some of the especially relevant videos from www.texasgearup.com) with follow-up materials that they can use to enhance their college preparedness. The OYOF site also has a section for parents, including robust college-readiness guides for middle-school and high-school parents, as well as an educator portal to provide classroom activities that teachers and counselors can use in tandem with the videos.
These particular materials were developed largely in response to feedback from educators saying that there just aren’t huge chunks of time to devote to college prep during the school day. So, by producing shorter, easy-to-digest videos paired with scalable classroom activities, our goal was to make the information as simple as possible to access and incorporate into the curriculum. The feedback coming in from OYOF site users has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and we definitely look forward to continuing to grow all the site’s resources and getting the word out statewide over the coming years.
As we’ve developed the GEAR UP websites, videos and supplemental materials, we’ve been spreading the word via targeted e-blasts, direct contact with Education Service Centers, and promotional support at a variety of conferences for educators and students statewide—to date we have staged events for nearly 2,000 attendees at Texas GEAR UP annual conferences alone. We have also initiated efforts to promote the OYOF site and all its resources to educators in every corner of Texas to truly enhance the statewide presence of Own Your Own Future.
Also on the outreach front, AMS launched a pilot program, the STAR Senior-Year Plan (SSYP), in six high schools in GEAR UP districts in the Corpus Christi area. We have been working closely with the GEAR UP teams at these schools to ensure that the class of 2012 makes the most of their final year before graduation. With a goal of 100% of seniors applying for college and financial aid, we have developed a set of sustainable tools that are being implemented by educators and volunteers on the ground in each district to help reach that magic number. Based on needs assessments and evaluation data, we have created a set of “universal” resources that are being used by all six schools (including an OYOF smartphone app, college roadmaps, portable kiosks, training modules, PR strategies, community engagement techniques—even mascot costumes), as well as customized tools unique to the needs of each specific school. Download the smartphone app now from the Android Marketplace or iTunes.
At the schools participating in the SSYP pilot program, the 2011-2012 school year was divided into monthly themes, and AMS worked with the local teams to ensure that the tools were implemented at the appropriate times and in the most effective manner possible. As we closely oversaw the implementation process, we were able to help the districts adjust and course correct as needed throughout the year. Of course, in addition to giving the senior class a huge dose of extra support, the SSYP pilot was an excellent test of different approaches that could be adopted in the future when rolling out Own Your Own Future through statewide outreach campaigns targeting students and educators.
Connecting with three unique audiences (teens, parents and educators, to be specific) over a ten-year period might be challenging for some. Here at AMS Pictures, that challenge inspires us to continually develop innovative ideas and modern solutions that appeal to each of the audiences we serve. With the launch of a free iPhone- and Android-friendly OYOF app, students can now learn about college readiness with a tool they probably already have in their pocket. Other recent projects under the Own Your Own Future umbrella that target this student demographic include the use of interactive kiosks and QR codes to complement the on-campus college- and career-readiness curriculum at the SSYP high schools.
Much has already been accomplished through the Texas GEAR UP/AMS partnership. Of course, we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher for these students, parents, teachers, schools and really all of Texas. So there is still much work to be done and many lives to touch, and we look forward to continuing the rewarding collaboration.