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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

USU's 'Gear-Up' program gives teens a boost toward college

By Natalie Cook

December 13, 2006 | The federal government is using tax dollars to give back to the community. USU has been awarded a $130,000 grant to support the Gear-up program, aimed at helping students from grades 7 through 12 get to college.

Gear-Up is an acronym for the program that has one purpose for students -- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. These programs include colleges, universities and technical schools-any form of higher education.

The federal goverment began the Gear-up program in 1999. The National program description on the Gear-up Web site states "the grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education." In other words, the National Department of Education recognized that many students can't succeed because they don't have the means to pay for school and don't know how to change their situation.

"Many students don't make it to college because they are not informed of their options early enough to prepare and succeed," said Celestial Brandley, USU's program coordinator.

Gear-Up is made possible by the six-year grants the goverment provides to states and partnerships accross the nation to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. In order for USU to recieve the grant, the university must match the money the grant provides with donations, volunteer hours and services in-kind. If someone donates time, money or resources to the program, the university can count its value as a "match" for the money recieved from the goverment. In order to have the grant renewed each year, USU must prove they are providing as much support to the program as is the grant.

The services provided by Gear-Up mentors and volunteers include tutoring, mentoring, computer skills, workshops and other assistance. The services are administered through after-school programs to 120 students at six schools in Cache Valley.

"This is the second year USU has supervised the Gear-Up program and it has been growing steadily," Brandley said.

All participating students are recruited by each schools' program leiason who is a faculty member at that particular school and knows the students' needs best, Brandley said. Participants and are chosen based upon financial need and desire to progress beyond secondary education.

Many students who are recruited are ethnic minorities, some of which are immigrants and need help learning the lauguage among other things.

"It helped me understand a lot of English. It's getting easy for me," said Daniela Chavez, 14, one of 19 Gear-Up student participants at Mount Logan Middle School.

Some students need tutoring primarily and others are already earning the grades that colleges look for in an applicant, but they have no idea how to pay for higher education or apply for scholarships.

"Mount Logan has some very capable students and a limited number of tutors, only three, so we encourage the students to tutor each other because there are often more raised hands than we can get to at a time," said Travis Crump, a supervisor at MLMS and a USU graduate.

Gear-Up has made many accomodations to help the students, but it still has its challenges. Crump said it is difficult to help them see the big picture with education. Some students have said the future is so distant, they shouldn't have to worry about it yet -- essentially claiming that preparing for college is not neccessary this early in the game.

Jimmy Moore, USU's Gear-Up director, came to MLMS to motivate the students. Moore illustrated how GPA's are built from the second half of 8th grade all the way to the middle of 12th grade.

"If you wait until your senior year to get serious about your grades, it's too late," Moore said, "you have already dug yourself a hole you can't realistically get out of."

Students can also have a hard time taking school seriously because they have a lack of family support, Crump said. Many of these students come from families where no one has gone to college or plans on doing so.

"They need someone there to set the example, so we try to talk with them about our own experiences with college and take them up on campus as often as possible. I feel the more time invested at the university, the more comfortable they will be when the time comes to go to college," Crump said.

The majority of Gear-Up mentors and supervisors are USU students who are paid through the university's financial aid office. In order to work for Gear-Up they must prove a financial need by being eligible for financial aid. The program assists grade schoolers by preparing them to attend college, but it also helps out current unviersity students by providing them with meaningful jobs.

"After serving an LDS mission in California, I realized a lot of Hispanics ended their careers in construction or fast food. The trend needs to change and I can be a part of that change," Crump said.

The goal of Gear-Up is to raise awareness and preparation but the supervisors and mentors of Cache Valley also take into account the unique needs of the area.

"Historically, less than 20 percent of Hispanic students complete an undergraduate program," Brandley said. "Our goal is to raise that number significantly by raising awareness and preparedness."

Gear-Up is a referral agency to scholarship programs but does not currently offer any scholarships to particiapants. Brandley and Moore have set a goal to change that this year. Gear-Up is involved in several fundraisers in order to acheive the goal of raising $25,000 to be used for scholarships awarded to graduating seniors.

Gear-Up is one of several afterschool programs reponsible for this year's Nights of Lights celebration- a community event to raise awareness and funds for the afterschool programs in the area. Gear-Up is also holding a banquet in March to raise funding in hopes of reaching this year's $25,000 goal to provide scholarships for participating youth, Brandley said.

The program is still young and has some kinks to work out, but Brandley said the improvements of the students are where the real success of the program can be measured.

"It is a good opportunity for kids to learn new things and succeed in school. It helped me a lot," said MLMS student Chris Machea, 14.

To get involved with Gear-Up, e-mail Celestial Brandley at celestial@cc.usu.edu.

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