Lafayette GEAR UP Students Become Published Authors Through Writing Project

A GEAR UP student told Dr. Toby Daspit “GEAR UP gave me a future I didn’t know existed.”

Becoming a published author was an opportunity accomplished by several high school students from the Lafayette Parish School System GEAR UP program who authored, edited and published the book, Epiphanies Everywhere: A Chronicling from the Hallways of Lafayette Parish GEAR UP 

Through a partnership with the National Writing Project of Acadiana, the book chronicles experiences of students within the GEAR UP program. Publishing project facilitators worked with teachers and graduates from Lafayette Parish’s four GEAR UP schools – Acadiana High, Carencro High, Lafayette High, and Northside High. Participants engaged in creative writing exercises and interviewed various individuals who have been involved with LPSS GEAR UP since 2015. The final product is the Epiphanies Everywhere book filled with creative takes based on these inspiring stories – told through journalistic interviews and then translated into poetry, short stories and articles, recapping trips to colleges, writing workshops, engineering camps, tutoring sessions, among other experiences.  

Epiphanies Everywhere book cover

“Our philosophy is, ‘Everybody is a writer; we just have to get you to fill out that blank page’,” said Daspit, Professor of Education and Department Head at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) and Emeritus Consultant for the National Writing Project of Acadiana.

"This book is an incredible accomplishment - seven years in the making of providing creative and critical writing exercises for students who we worked with since 6th, 7th grade, and now they are in college, postsecondary school and careers, and they can call themselves published authors.”

The book was released at a launch party at the Hilliard Art Museum on the ULL campus in which Poet Laureate Jack Bedell was in attendance, and students read from the excerpts of their books. “I’m very proud of everyone who I worked with to accomplish something so cool,” said Mc’Kaila Miller, author and 2021 Acadiana High graduate. Even if I’m not writing now or tomorrow, I’ll always remember this experience. I’ll never let go of my writing and this opportunity to become a writer and published author.”

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Education that increases the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing states and local community-education partnerships 6-or-7-year grants to offer support services to high-need, middle and high schools. “At the heart of what we do at GEAR UP is to empower students through exposure, providing opportunities for students to discover their potential,” said Traci Aucoin, LPSS GEAR UP Project Director. LPSS has had two separate GEAR UP grants since 2008. “Epiphanies Everywhere is a great example of giving students a time and place to discover their potential. This initiative helped our students become better writers and opened their eyes to the possibilities of what they can achieve.” 

Writing Camps Launch Book Idea


The book originated out of a summer creative writing camp launched by LPSS GEAR UP and National Writing Project of Acadiana. ULL’s National Writing Project, one of 175 sites across the country, is a university-school partnership that improves the teaching of writing at all levels and provides development programs for teachers and students.  

During the first creative writing camp, recruited teachers came together for a week-long intensive writing experience. In the second week, a cohort of LPSS GEAR UP 6th and 7th-grade students joined teachers and camp organizers to participate in creative writing experiences. As the culminating event, teacher and student participants showcased their writing in the presence of family, friends, educators and community members. Each summer following the camp, teachers created writing clubs in their respective schools. Each successive year, the same cohort of students and teachers were invited back to camp.  

"The model we hit on was bringing teachers in from the district’s schools to not only help them become better writing teachers, but also engage them to do critical and creative writing exercises with students. The synergy worked so much that we had the same students and teachers coming back every year, building close relationships that their shared experiences evolved into the idea of compiling a literary work."

The writing camps model has been presented, discussed and published in education journals and conferences, and schools from around the country have inquired to Daspit about the partnership model to mirror the program. Several students involved within the writing camps became interns after they graduated to coordinate the book publishing project. All 2020-21 graduates from the LPSS GEAR UP were invited to apply for authentic writing/editing positions, for a paid publishing project. “I am an oral historian and I always wanted to do a project that chronicled our journey and the steps we made over the course of seven years and the 3,500 students we helped,” Daspit said. “Epiphanies Everywhere does just that. It was true empowerment across the board; now they are published authors/editors with real-world experience. The power of the pen.” 

Hailey Menard, a 2021 Comeaux High graduate, was involved through the duration of the writing camps from 7th through 12th grade.

"This experience allowed me not only to see the character development in myself and my own personal growth, but also in my writing as well. I get to perform my poetry live I front of people who share the same creative visions as I do and that’s an indescribable feeling knowing that you were able to use your poetry as spoken words to communicate your message and your story and other people’s stories to the public even if they haven’t met the people you’ve written about.”

LPSS, MasteryPrep Have Partnered Since 2014 

MasteryPrep partners with GEAR UPs at colleges and universities to level the playing field by providing academic resources to low-income, first-generation families who traditionally cannot access premium college readiness supports. These partnerships increase students’ academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education; number of students receiving scholarships and entrance into four-year institutions; and increase students and their families’ knowledge of postsecondary education options, preparation and financing. Since 2014, LPSS GEAR UP has served as the key facilitator with MasteryPrep, securing the in-kind partnership and acting as intermediary to support implementation across the Lafayette Parish School System.  

All of the district’s LPSS schools have MasteryPrep Ready for the ACT – the comprehensive package of ACT programs, including Decoding the ACT (Professional Development), ACT Mastery, TruScore Practice Testing & Analysis for the ACT, ACT Elements and ACT Boot Camps. One LPSS teacher reported a student go from an ACT score of 14 to 17 after a boot camp, which now qualifies for a TOPS Tech scholarship, and also another student jumped six points after a boot camp. *

*Unpaid testimonial. Individual results may vary, and testimonials are not claimed to represent typical results. ACT score average and gain data courtesy of MasteryPrep client district and based on year over year ACT test data for the same cohort. All testimonials are real participants, and may not reflect the typical user’s experience, and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.


Aucoin says the partnership has paid dividends for the school system, providing teachers with the knowledge and tools needed to support their students in preparing for standardized testing. “Ultimately, our goal is college and career readiness, and the ACT test is an important step on that path,” Aucoin said. “By using MasteryPrep’s comprehensive suite of test prep resources, teachers can help students improve their test-taking confidence and raise their score by at least a few points — points that can make all the difference when it comes to college and scholarships.” 

Aucoin added that she values MasteryPrep’s approach to testing being designed to be broad-based for those needing to reach minimum scores for admission, but also tailored to help mid-level scoring students who want to work on specific areas for improvement.  

“Working side by side for the life of this grant since 2014, watching MasteryPrep grow and personalize its product - customizable based on need - and understanding how we can provide the needed level of support and have a true impact on schools, is unbelievable. There is an understood gap in students’ needs in GEAR UP, and your resources must have the capacity to reach every child. MasteryPrep does that and works beautifully in partnership with its schools and districts.”

About MasteryPrep:

MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources for the SAT®, ACT®, TSIA2, EOC, and WorkKeys®. MasteryPrep is the nationally preferred SAT and ACT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education and licensed by ACT to include official ACT test questions in its programs. MasteryPrep partners with schools and districts to help level the standardized assessment playing field. MasteryPrep has ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies” for six years and is a featured “Entrepreneur 360” company.


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