Heights High's Taylor Evans wins national award
Taylor Evans, a Heights High junior, has been named the GEAR UP Student of the Year by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships. She is the lead intern/ambassador for Heights High’s GEAR UP 2 New Heights program.
GEAR UP—Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs—aims to increase the college and career readiness of low-income students. It currently serves more than 523,000 students in 46 states. The award is given to one student in the U.S. who embodies the GEAR UP mission to “Excel, Prove, and Mobilize.”
“Taylor was selected out of hundreds of thousands of GEAR UP students across the country, and she is incredibly deserving of this honor,” said Bob Swaggard, the CH-UH City School District’s director of curriculum and instruction. “She’s a wonderful student and we are all so proud of her.”
According to Carmen Daniel, Heights High’s GEAR UP 2 New Heights advisor, Evans proves GEAR UP works by excelling academically, participating in extracurricular activities, and demonstrating her confidence in post-secondary planning.
Evans started a GEAR UP internship at Heights High, to increase student engagement through peer-to-peer outreach. She reasoned that, by helping interns increase their college and career readiness skills through monthly meetings, research, and journaling, they would share what they learned with others. Evans held information sessions and created promotional materials for the program.
“Since the start of the internship, we have seen a surge in student engagement in GEAR UP activities,” said Daniel. “This year, we saw a record number of National Honor Society (NHS) invitations sent to 10th-grade students. To help make sure students successfully completed their applications, Taylor created a workshop for students to ask questions and receive advice. I’m proud to say there were 51 sophomores accepted into the 2021 NHS class.”
In December 2020, Evans approached GEAR UP advisors with the idea for a virtual Black Youth Entrepreneurship Expo during Black History month. An entrepreneur herself—owner of She’s Lovely, a faith-based company—Evans wanted to assist her classmates and young people across Northeast Ohio as they venture into the world of business.
“This was our first time conducting a large-scale virtual event, but Taylor was ready and prepared,” said Daniel.
To prepare for the PSAT exam, Evans came up with the idea to create a self-paced study competition. Participating students logged more than 50 total practice hours and completed nearly 5,000 recommended math and reading questions. Fifty-one Heights sophomores, the highest in school history, registered for and took the PSAT.
“I never do what I do for praise; I do it because it’s something that’s needed in my community and something I’m passionate about,” said Evans.
Classmate and friend Nevaeh Braxter submitted a letter recommending Evans for the GEAR UP award. Braxter recalled that, during a difficult year of remote learning, Evans motivated her to stay focused on her future, encouraging her to join the GEAR UP internship program.
“Becoming active again in GEAR UP helped me to rediscover joy in school,” said Braxter. “Not only does Taylor take charge respectfully, she makes sure everyone understands what is happening and feels included. She encourages us to speak up for ourselves and our interests.”
Evans also participates in the Superintendent’s Student Cadre, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and MSAN (Minority Student Achievement Network). The Metropolitan Cleveland Alliance of Black School Educators awarded Evans its 2021 Drum Major for Justice award. She plans to attend a four-year university after graduation in 2023.
“I’m not exactly sure where I want to go,” said Evans, “but I know I can do whatever it is I have a passion for because Dr. Carmen and the GEAR UP program have pushed me to learn more, and let me know the possibilities are endless."
Cathan Cavanaugh is the supervisor of communications for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.