The following was originally published by Sun Community News.

ESSEX | For their work in preparing students for post-secondary education, five North Country GEAR UP schools have been recognized as Schools of Distinction by CFES Brilliant Pathways, a nonprofit that helps underserved young people realize college and career opportunities.

“This is a challenging time for education, so it is especially significant that these schools went above and beyond to provide their students a boost toward college and career success,” said Rick Dalton, president and CEO of Essex-based CFES Brilliant Pathways.

The five CFES Schools of Distinction are: Ausable Valley High School, Beekmantown Middle School, Crown Point Central School, Moriah Central School and Ticonderoga Central School. To become a School of Distinction, a school, in partnership with CFES, must implement cutting-edge, school-wide programs that advance college and career readiness.

The competitive award acknowledges the development and execution of a highly effective approach that targets the entire student body to become college and career-ready through the CFES 10-Point Plan, which encompasses the organization’s three core practices of Essential Skills, mentoring and pathways to college and career.

Through this program, students are exposed to careers they might not have known about; they visit college campuses and receive help obtaining financial aid.

“Our partnership with CFES provides our students with opportunities that they would not have otherwise,” said Tammy Casey, principal at Ausable Valley High School. “CFES works with us to provide not only mentoring and college and career readiness, but they connect our students with businesses like BETA Technologies, and they bring unique experiences into our building such as the gardens that students care for, and in turn provide fresh vegetables for our cafeteria.”

Tara Celotti, superintendent at Crown Point, said the flexibility of the CFES program fits a wide range of student interests. “Whether our students choose to join the workforce, military or pursue higher education, CFES continues to distinctly outline essential life skills as well as develop positive character traits that create well-rounded and productive community members,” she said.

Ron Rix, Project Director for CFES GEAR UP, a U.S. Department of Education grant program that helps prepare underserved students for college, said each recognized School of Distinction district has individual programming that stands out, including:

Ausable Valley High School has developed a model STEM mentoring program where high school students work with and mentor elementary students in horticulture and a variety of science projects. Additionally, their students visit college campuses in both the Adirondack region as well as Vermont.

Beekmantown Middle School students regularly visit college campuses, including Clinton Community College, SUNY Plattsburgh and Champlain College. They also offer worksite visits to technology and manufacturing facilities in the Plattsburgh area. Through the GEAR UP grant, they have secured robotic kits and drones for student use.

Working with CFES, Crown Point has implemented a comprehensive college and career readiness program throughout the school. They have created CFES GEAR UP classes for high school seniors and middle school students that focus on career exploration, college pathways and Essential Skills development, and ongoing college visits in the area along with an overnight trip to New York City where they visit colleges and are introduced to career opportunities.

Moriah Central School has a comprehensive peer mentoring program that they supplement with a college and career fair and virtual mentoring with employees from Colgate Palmolive. Moriah also implements an annual science fair for middle and high school students that has become a model for the region. In addition, students are introduced to STEM careers, and compete in science fairs at the state, national and global level.

Ticonderoga Central School has developed a school-community partnership with the Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance, which sponsors job shadowing and workplace visits that explore regional careers. Through CFES GEAR UP, the school has also launched a series of STEM classes.