PHARR, RGV – Barbara Gonzales, the new director of GEAR UP at Vanguard Academy, has explained to parents some of the activities being planned under the federally funded program.

Vanguard has been awarded just over $1.5 million each year for the next seven years. The total value of the grant is $10.6 million. 

Asked to explain the GEAR UP program, Gonzales said: “GEAR Up stands for Gaining Early Awareness for Under Graduate Programs. It is a federal grant program deigned to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in education after school. Our GEAR UP activities will prepare students for post secondary credentials that will empower them with marketable opportunities.”

Barbara Gonzales

In a newsletter sent to parents, Gonzales said the purpose of GEAR UP is to provide funding for academic and related support services to help students K-7th grade obtain a secondary school diploma and prepare them to be successful in post-secondary education. 

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Gonzales said students and parents will benefit. 

“The funding will help students achieve academically and prepare them for college and a career,” Gonzales said. “They will learn how to apply to go to college, how to apply for financial aid, and how to learn important study skills. We want them to stay in college and finish college and find a career they love and enjoy.”

Students will go on campus visits; attend career exploration activities, receive financial aid counseling, academic support and be encouraged to go on summer enrichment programs.

The benefits for parents, Gonzales said, include “thematic workshops and training, college readiness and awareness, financial literacy education, guidance and tools to help their child succeed in college, career and life.” Vanguard will be holding GEAR UP Family Nights. 

“Our staff has hardly been here a month and we are on our third parental meeting,” Gonzales said, in her exclusive interview. “We have a literacy night coming up where we will give out 2,300 books free to our GEAR UP students. We have an upcoming financial literacy event. We had a career fair. We are creating opportunities for our parents as well. There is a lot going on.”

The dates of the Family Literacy Nights have been announced. They are:

Rembrandt Campus – March 18

1200 E. Kelly Ave, Pharr, TX  78577

Fine Arts Bldg (GYM) 5-7 p.m.

Mozart Campus – March 25

155 E. Business 83, Alamo, TX  78516

Elem. Cafeteria  6-8 p.m.

Beethoven Campus – April 8

2215 S. Veterans Blvd. Edinburg, TX  78539

Elem. Cafeteria  5-7 p.m.

With regard to financial literacy, Gonzales said Vanguard is starting with a group of 15 parents, with two cohorts in the spring and two in the fall. “In time we want to impact every single parent,” Gonzales said.

The GEAR UP program is a discretionary grant program that encourages eligible entities to provide support, and maintain a commitment to eligible low-income students, including students with disabilities, to assist the students in obtaining a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent and to prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education.

Gonzales pointed out that Vanguard was one of only eight other educational institutions in the State of Texas to be selected for this grant and one of only two charter schools in the nation. 

Gonzales said that when students leave Vanguard Academy they will know exactly where they are headed, how to get their, what grades they need to get their and what test scores are required. 

“I have all the tools and the answers to those questions. I told the parents, when your child is crossing that stage, getting that high school diploma, you can say, my child is going to UTRGV and there is money for my child to go. Or, my child has decided to be a welder and he has the skills to do that and make a career. I want every child to be able to say, I know exactly where I am going. You do not want to hear a kid saying, I do not know what I am going to do from here. We do not want to hear that.”

Dr. Narciso Garcia, superintendent of Vanguard Academy.

Gonzales said Vanguard has identified four categories where GEAR UP can help. They are:

  • Fostering flexible and affordable patch to obtaining knowledge and skills; 
  • Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math education, with a particular focus on computer science; 
  • Protecting freedom of speech and encouraging respectful interactions in a safe educational environment; 
  • Fostering knowledge and promoting the development of skills that prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, and productive individuals and citizens.

“This GEAR UP grant is so unique, we are servicing students from kindergarten through 7th grade,” Gonzales said. “We are going to start having those early conversations, we are making plans to have a financial literacy night for kinder thru 7th. Not only for students but, more importantly, for our parents to understand what it looks like. At the end of the day, not are you going to school but where are you going to school. What career are you going to have.”

Gonzales has worked in the educational arena for 29 years. She previously worked for Region One Education Service Center. She said she knows from her work their how important it is to expose Rio Grande Valley students to new opportunities.

“Our students tend to be very sheltered in the Valley. Many of them never go past the Valley. There are so many schools outside of the Valley they can go to. We are going to the east coast and the west coast, Stanford, and Cal-Berkeley. To let them know there is more out there, outside the Rio Grande Valley.”

Gonzales said she is happy with the GEAR UP team she has assembled. It includes Ana Cardona as family financial advocate, Abril Cabrera, Ruby Aguilar and Maricruz Flores as site coordinators, Juana Alvarez as ELA content coach, and Juan Barrera as Math content coach.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us but our team is really up to the challenge. I have to say thank you to our superintend, Narciso Garcia. His leadership is phenomenal. His attitude is make it work, we are going to get the job done.”

Gonzales added: “Knowing that we can have these kinds of conversations with our kinder, our 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th and, of course our 7th grade kids is just unheard of. We have got the right partners in place to make this happen. We are excited to get the ball rolling, there is so much we want to do. Seven years seems like a long time but it really isn’t.”

Vanguard Academy GEAR UP Activities

Barbara Gonzales provided this list of activities being developed by Vanguard under the GEAR UP program:

Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments provided district trainings for math and science Nspire Navigator delivered as In-kind match. Currently TI coaches are delivering 51 days of coaching during the spring semester of which 27 days are math and the remaining 24 days are for science. The coaching is to help and give in classroom support for the math and science teachers. The coaches are observing and providing feedback, co-teaching, co-planning and modeling for the teacher and students how to use the software and the Nspire calculators.  

Vernier Science Equipment

Vernier conducted trainings for science and math teachers was to maximize the use of the equipment, integrate real time data collection into science and mathematics, instruct teachers on higher order thinking strategies, and foster collaboration between the science and math teachers. The trainings were conducted on January 7th and 8th 

South Texas College

GEAR UP has met with South Texas College to discuss summer camps for Vanguard students. STC will continue to provide college awareness and career readiness, and ongoing learning opportunities for our Vanguard students.  Through the summer camps our students will be able to increase their academic performance and preparation for high school and postsecondary education.

Texas Valley Communities Foundation:

Through our partnership with Texas Valley Communities Foundation, we are currently in the process of providing four educational and empowering Saturday workshops for parents that will target specific areas relevant to college and career readiness for their children. This experience will help parents create a positive and lasting educational environment at home through an intentional and meaningful approach. At the end of the workshops, parents will be provided with a graduation to celebrate their accomplishment.

Lone Star National Bank

Lone Star National Bank is a financial institution committed to empowering our students and parents at Vanguard Academy to understand the importance of financial literacy. Through their Financial literacy program, they will provide students with educational and engaging classroom activities targeting the importance of saving. Parents will also be provided with informational presentations on topics of banking services, student loans options, and other investments opportunities.

GEAR UP Parent Meetings

Parental Involvement plays a critical role in student achievement. As parents become more involved, it helps them provide a positive impact on their child’s education. We are currently conducting GEAR UP Parent meetings at every campus to provide our parents with important information regarding the purpose of our GEAR UP grant, which is to provide support and maintain a commitment to assist our students K-7th grade to obtain a secondary school diploma and to prepare them to succeed in postsecondary education. We also discuss our GEAR UP areas of focus as well as student and parental services. 

South Texas Literacy Coalition

We are very excited to provide our parents and students with a Family Literacy Night at three of our campuses. Through our partnership with South Texas Coalition, every student K-7th grade will be provided with a new book. This will provide a wonderful opportunity for our students, parents, and community partners to meet and greet. Fun and engaging activities will also be provided to promote a long life learner and reader. Parents and students will also be presented with literacy resources that can be utilized at home. 

GEAR UP Tutors

GEAR Up tutors will be providing tutorial services in the areas of Math and ELA.  Our GEAR UP tutors are specialized in the content that best meets the needs of each of our campuses. Our objective is to help promote and increase student success. 


Vanguard Academy GEAR UP along with Sylvan will aim to provide a strong level of support for our GEAR UP students by providing a rigorous and prescriptive program specially designed for each individual student.    

Professional Development 

GEAR UP has and will continue to provide skills, knowledge, and ongoing learning opportunities for our Vanguard teachers. Through these professional learning opportunities, our teachers will be able to increase the academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education for our GEAR UP students.  

Continuing Education

Vanguard Academy GEAR UP is excited to announce that we are sponsoring a total of 5 teachers to pursue a Master’s Degree. This sponsorship will be fully paid for through our GEAR UP Grant and a UTRGV Scholarship.

Master’s Degree Programs

1.) Master in Bilingual Education

2.) Master in Biology

3.) Master in History

4.) Master in Mathematics

5.) Master in Political Science

Railway Safety

Vanguard Academy is partnering up with Railway Safety. The 2019 Railway Safety Summer Camps are a week long program where students are introduced to grade-appropriate STEM concepts related to transportation engineering through exciting and interactive hands-on activities and challenges. Railway for Vanguard Academy will be from June 3 – 7, 2019. We will be sending 320 students from 3rd to 12th grade and 15 teachers to the camp. Two teachers will also have the opportunity to do some research from June 1 – July 5, 2019.


Vanguard Academy is partnering up with UTRGV STEM. Kinder through 5th grade students district wide will be serviced through this partnership in the Spring Semester. Kinder and 1st graders will have hands-on activities with C-Stem, 2nd and 3rd graders will experience the Mobile Planetarium, 4th and 5th graders will participate in the mobile lab.

College 1st

Ernesto Villarreal is the executive director for the program. The program’s goal is to improve student academic achievement, increase student attendance, and prepare and motivate students to become college and career ready. Currently at Vanguard Academy, College 1st is providing two different camps for students in the 6th and 7th grade. One is Space Exploration in which the students will create a space rocket and fly a drone. The students will also be enhancing their reading, writing, science, and math skills while exploring and creating innovating things. The 2nd camp is an Architecture with focus on Math. These camps will be taking place during the spring semester.