MCC Makes a Difference for Second Cohort of GEAR UP Students

MANCHESTER, Conn.  (November 9, 2020) – As the beneficiaries of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that was announced last fall, Manchester Community College and the East Hartford public school system are seeing student success after the first year of this seven-year funded partnership.

The federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant sponsors projects that partner higher education institutions with local school districts to create a college and career awareness and readiness culture.  Managing the funding, MCC is providing resources, expertise and leadership for more than 500 students enrolled in East Hartford and Sunset Ridge Middle Schools, according to Benjamin Breault, MCC’s GEAR UP program coordinator.

These students began the program as seventh graders, and they will continue to participate through 2026, when they are slated to complete their first year of college, potentially at Manchester Community College. A previous federal grant funded a GEAR UP cohort from 2012 through 2019.

“Over the summer, MCC sponsored the East Hartford Middle School Summer Success Program, affording the rising seventh-grade students the opportunity for direct contact between teachers and students, thanks in part to the purchase of more than 100 laptops,” Breault said. “The focus was not just on academics, but relationship building, and social and emotional learning.”

Students were able to follow a daily schedule that included dedicated face time with each teacher, despite COVID-19 protocols and work from home restrictions.

“This was fantastic preparation for the upcoming school year, as their day mimicked a typical day that they would be encountering as eighth graders in the fall, albeit in a shortened fashion,” said Ryan Murphy, a math teacher at East Hartford Middle School and the Summer Success Program’s lead organizer. “This also allowed many of our staff members to become familiar with the structure of the day for what became our new normal — remote learning — using various online platforms to engage students, providing them a voice and an opportunity to converse with one another face-to-face in a way that hadn’t been seen consistently in months.”

As students progress through the multi-year program, they become eligible for a two-year post-secondary GEAR UP scholarship as well. “In addition to the need-based financial aid available to all students that submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), this scholarship serves as the final springboard for student success and career readiness,” Breault said.

About GEAR UP at MCC

Since 2012, MCC has partnered with East Hartford Public Schools to implement this program in Connecticut. GEAR UP is the largest college and career readiness program in the nation. Under the program, low-income and underserved students saw steady progress in preparing for academic success throughout high school and successful enrollment in postsecondary education. For instance, the percentage of East Hartford High School students deemed college-ready rose from 41.6 percent in 2017 to 45.1 percent in 2018, according to the Connecticut Department of Education based on their SAT scores. For more, visit