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Dr. Frances E. Contreras

Literature Review of Best Practices in Intervention at the Middle and High School Levels, Prepared by: Frances E. Contreras, Ph.D.

Thanks to the GEAR UP program, and GEAR UP Scholarship, I was able to see pretty much all of the important colleges in the State of Washington. I don't know if they still have it, but they used to have a program called the GEAR UP Summer Institute. That was the first time I had the opportunity to see the University of Washington. I remember I enjoyed it so much and I fell in love with the school, with everything about college.
--Alejandro, A Gates Achiever Scholar from Eastern Washington,
attending UW


The transition from high school to college for students is a critical step that establishes the foundation for a student’s educational attainment, career options, preparation, and social mobility. Not all students however, like Alejandro, have access to the information within their school to successfully transition to college without the assistance of programs that either partner with schools or are located in the community. Intervention programs have long been considered important approaches to raising student achievement in school as well as provide guidance to students as they progress through the education pipeline (Gandara & Bial, 2001). For underrepresented minority youth in particular, such efforts have served to compensate for the unequal opportunities to learn that disadvantaged students encounter in the public education system throughout the United States or a lack of internal support within the school context (Gandara & Bial, 2001; Oakes, 2003; Gandara & Contreras, 2009; Contreras et. al., 2008). Alejandro, for example, fell in love with college by being exposed to several universities through a GEAR UP summer leadership institute. He was fortunate to have access to counselors, peers and pivotal experiences that helped shape his aspirations to attend a four-year university through this program that recognized that “he had potential.” Prior to the GEARU UP summer institute, his counselor and a few teachers in his Eastern Washington High School told him that he should attend a community college:

The counselor told me you know what, you are better off if you go to a community college. You're not at the level that a college wants. She was really trying to make me go to the Yakima Valley Community College. She said ‘you don't have a chance over there,’ [at UW]. And that was the last time I saw the counselor. At that point I met a recruiter for the University of Washington, and thank goodness she was able to help me out. I received the help I was looking for, like what courses I needed to take before applying to the University of Washington.

Intervention programs sometimes serve to counter negative messages from school staff, or serve as a buffer for the messages communicated by teachers or counselors (Contreras, forthcoming).

Intervention programs range from federally funded efforts such as GEAR UP and Upward Bound, to state programs such as MESA and AVID, private non-profit programs such as a Better Chance or Posse; and university partnership programs (Gandara & Bial, 2001) such as the School University Partnership Program (SUP) at UC Berkeley. Such efforts, while they have varying missions and program service delivery models, attempt to influence academic preparation and the transition to college.

The objectives of this literature review are the following: 1) Provide an overview of literature on the transition to college and best approaches for college transition; 2) Provide an overview of select promising programs that engage in comparable educational efforts to GEAR UP and an overview of their outcomes; 3) Provide recommendations for Washington State GEAR UP Programs to enhance their effectiveness in achieving their stated objectives below.

The literature review and recommendations will take into account the following GEAR UP Objectives:

     1) Increase the Academic Performance of GEAR UP students
     2) Increase the Rate of High School Graduation, awareness and participation in college
     3) Increase GEAR UP students’ knowledge about financing, preparation, and college options
     4) Increase parent awareness and knowledge of postsecondary options, including financing and academic preparation

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