PHARR, Texas – The community partners of Vanguard Academy Charter School and its GEAR UP program have spoken about their pleasure in participating in the initiative.

Among the partners are the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center and NAFT Federal Credit Union.

“NAFT FCU has had the opportunity to collaborate with Vanguard Academy GEAR UP Program multiple times. And each time we are convinced that something special is happening in Vanguard Academy,” said Delia Montanez, vice president of lending at NAFT.

“Their passion and professionalism have exceeded our expectation and we look forward to many more opportunities to help plant a seed of hope within the students, parents and community. We will always strive to give Vanguard the best of NAFT.”

Diana Garza-Farias, executive director of the RGV Literacy Center, had a similar story to tell.

“The Vanguard Academy GEAR UP Program and the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center partnership has been a resounding success for both organizations and, of course, for GEAR UP Parents. Parents are receiving an education that will make a big difference for their families financially. Under the instruction of The Center’s staff, they are taking the opportunity either to learn workforce-related English six hours a week or to study towards earning their GED certificate,” Garza-Farias said.

“Thanks to The Academy’s support, the RGVLC has been able to expand its online services through the much-needed demand for computers and online access. Congratulations to both GEAR UP partners for helping make a positive change a reality.”

Another partner of Vanguard through the GEAR UP program is the Museum of South Texas History. 

GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. It is a discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. 

Administered through the U.S. Department of Education, GEAR UP provides six-year or seven-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.

Vanguard Academy is a fast-growing public charter school district with campuses in the cities of Pharr, Alamo and Edinburg. It plans to open a campus in Sharyland in 2022.

The success Vanguard has been having with its GEAR UP program was amplified across the nation recently when the University of Texas brought together participating schools from as far afield as Alaska, Kansas, Tennessee and New York. 

Representing Vanguard on the webinar were Barbara Gonzales, director of Vanguard’s GEAR UP program, and Ana Cardona, Vanguard’s GEAR UP family and financial advocate.

“UT wanted to hear from schools are working and thinking outside of the box. We had15 minutes to explain all that we are doing. We explained how we are motivating not only the students but also our parents to better themselves. They were surprised we are doing so much,” Gonzales said.

By way of an example, Gonzales referenced a tie-up Vanguard has with South Texas College. Under a GEAR UP partnership, 22 Vanguard parents are learning EKG and lobotomy at STC and will earn certificates at the end of the course.

Gonzales said she and her GEAR UP team would not be as successful as they are if it were not for the full support of Vanguard Superintendent Narciso Garcia. “He is so supportive,” she said.

Breaking a Record for Student Participation

Vanguard Academy students participated in College 1st’s Space Exploration ELA Virtual CAMP.

Another of Vanguard’s partners with GEAR UP is College 1st Program. This nonprofit’s motto is “Empowering Students for College and Career Success.” Ernesto Villarreal, executive director of College 1st, congratulated the school for having an engaged student body.

“The Vanguard GEAR UP Team broke the student participation record for a single College 1st Space Exploration ELA Virtual CAMP with 110 participants from Vanguard Beethoven Academy. Congratulations,” Villarreal said.

Another partnership Vanguard is cultivating through GEAR UP is with Texas A&M Extension Service. “On Feb. 23, Texas A&M Extension are doing nutritional classes for us. They are friends of GEAR UP. We are looking forward to that,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales explained that when Vanguard secured its GEAR UP funding the thought was parents would benefit through financial literacy and GED programs. However, she said her team is now looking for other ways to help parents.

“There is so much more for us to do to help our community. Ana (Cardona), in particular, is actively looking for new ideas to help the community. We know we have got phenomenal parents. One of our goals is to have an entrepreneurship program for them,” Gonzales said.

“Our culture here in the Valley is all about family and helping each other. The message we want to get out to parents is, it is okay to dream for yourselves as well your kids. And to take time for themselves as well. We get so many parents saying, ‘I wish we could have had this when I was at school.’ Our reply is, you wish? You still can.”

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