PULASKI COUNTY, AR – Mills Middle School (MMS) is one of 15 Arkansas middle schools participating in GEAR UP and the only school in the Pulaski County Special School District. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a partnership funded by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the college-going rate of low-income secondary school students. This seven-year, $30 million grant was acquired by the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) and they will facilitate its implementation in Arkansas. 

“We are thrilled to be a part of the GEAR UP partnership,” says Dr. Lisa Watson, Principal of Mills Middle School. “We’ve just begun and our parents, teachers and scholars are geared up for the possibilities.” Dr. Watson says scholars have begun reflecting on the partnership and are asking "Is this for real?” “Is GEAR UP really going to help me find and pay for college?” “Closing the opportunity gap and preparing all scholars for college and career readiness begins with a commitment to do what is best for all scholars, and that is GEAR UP,” says Dr. Watson.

Launched at a MMS parent meeting on February 6, 2024, Dr. Charlotte Parham, Associate Professor, Department of Leadership Studies, College of Education (UCA) shared that GEAR UP consists of three areas of focus: “academic preparation, college and educational aspiration support, and college entry steps.” She lauded the AVID initiative already underway at MMS, one of the Pulaski County Special School District’s big rocks. “I can already see that Mills Middle is ahead of the game in creating a college going culture,” said Dr. Parham.

“I call AVID and GEAR Up cousins,” says Dr. Janice Warren, Assistant Superintendent for Equity and Pupil Services (PCSSD). “They both are committed to closing the opportunity gap and preparing scholars for college and career readiness.”

According to UCA, “the seven-year project is a cohort model that begins with sixth and seventh grades at 15 middle schools and will provide services to the 6th-grade cohort of students through 12th grade and the 7th-grade cohort through their freshman year of college.”

GEAR UP has partnered with AR AIMS (Arkansas Advanced Initiative in Math and Science) to support the instructional team at MMS. “AR AIMS opens the door for all middle school and high school students in Arkansas to reach their academic potential by offering high quality, student centered teacher training and support to empower teachers to become more effective in advanced instructional methods and strategies.”

Mills Middle School’s GEAR UP includes: Teacher Professional Development (AIMS), Skills Building Classes, Super Saturday Sessions, Summer Programs, Tutoring, Advising and Mentoring, College Tours, Exposure to Career Opportunities, College and Career Planning, Advising, and Parent Financial Planning Nights. Click link or copy and paste ( for MMS GEAR UP’s latest newsletter.

For more information on GEAR UP at Mills Middle School contact Dr. John McCraney, Coordinator of Equity Initiatives, Equity and Pupil Services (PCSSD) at 501.234.2088.