'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
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
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
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
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