Thomas Middle School eighth graders have toured the Body Worlds exhibit in Portland, visited Astoria’s Clatsop Community College, and most recently, journeyed to Seattle on September 25 to visit the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, all through Wahkiakum School District’s GEAR UP program.
GEAR UP is an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The services provided by the program include tutoring and mentoring and college and career planning and field trips. The class began their involvement in the program last year and will participate in GEAR UP activities until they graduate from high school in 2017.
GEAR UP funds come from a six-year $27 million federal grant awarded to the state. Across Washington, 6,000 students from 28 low-income or underserved school districts participate in the program, including Naselle and White Pass. The long-term goals for the project are to increase students’ academic performance, prepare them for education after high school, and increase high school graduation and college enrollment rates.
Cindy Fudge, Lisa Frink, and Cheryl Parker are Wahkiakum’s GEAR UP team.
“The whole key to GEAR UP is making kids dream. You’ve got to imagine what you want to become before you can begin to plan, “ said Fudge. “We bring in professionals and students to give them exposure to different careers and different college experiences."
Fudge is a college student herself and hopes to complete her teaching degree when the GEAR UP class is in 11th grade. She didn’t think she could effectively motivate students to graduate from college if she didn’t model it herself, she said.
Fudge attended college after high school but left before finishing her degree. A talented softball player, she had hoped to compete in collegiate athletics, but it didn’t happen.
“I was really lost as far as my identity when softball went away. We don’t want our students to base their identity on one thing. We want them to see themselves as individuals with different facets. Sports are one facet,” she said.
The students are reading a book titled Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. “We’re trying to encourage kids that rather than basing life on relationships or friends or sports, they can build their lives on principles like honesty, hard work, and dependability,” said Fudge.
Through GEAR UP, Sharon LaBerge is available Monday through Thursday after school for homework help. Additionally, fall sports coaches start their practices later so their athletes have dedicated study time.
“We’re trying to build up the whole student. If we can improve a student’s academic performance, maybe the student will feel better about themselves all the way around and make better choices. We want school to be a positive life force for kids,” said Fudge.
She displayed boxes of prizes the students receive as motivational rewards: bags, shirts, bracelets, temporary tattoos, even toothbrushes with the bright colors of college logos.