College prep program proving popular

Sweet Home’s GEAR UP program is entering its second year with a problem: Too many youngsters want in.

The program, which encourages junior high school students to pursue a college education, had participation from 104 out of 187 seventh-graders last spring after it kicked off in February, according to Kristin Adams, the district’s GEAR UP-ASPIRE coordinator. The district’s companion ASPIRE program provided mentoring for post-secondary education for high school juniors last year.

“It was so popular at the junior high that the eighth-grade kids wanted to be involved,” she said.

This year the eighth-graders €“ who were seventh-graders last year €“ will be involved, along with the Class of 2015, this year’s seventh-graders.

GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, offers resources and information to low income-serving school districts in Oregon. The 12 districts, including Sweet Home, that are participating were selected through a competitive process.

Beginning with the Class of 2014 €“last year’s seventh-graders €“ students will be eligible to compete for GEAR UP scholarships, which will be awarded based on academics, financial need and participation in GEAR UP activities.

A junior high GEAR UP Club met weekly after school and during lunch last spring to participate in such activities as career interest surveys, learning about college entrance requirements, dorm life, on-line virtual tours of college campuses, creating mock college schedules and learning about how to pay for college.

Club members also made visits to Oregon State University, Western Oregon University and the University of Oregon, where they got campus tours, watched a theater production, checked out college engineering and economics classes and sampled the cafe-teria.

Adams said the district is working on an in-depth curriculum alignment aimed at eliminating unnecessary duplication between courses at the junior high and high school in math, language arts and science.

“We’re creating a road map from seventh to 12th grade,” she said. “This is going to help the kids.”

Junior high students also formed a Debate Club during last year’s elections and a Reptile Club. Adams said funding for seven new clubs at the high school level has been procured for this year, but what they will be has yet to be decided.

Also, 23 ASPIRE students from the high school attended a summer enrichment science camp at OSU last summer.

She said demand was higher than the district could meet, particularly from eighth-graders who wanted in.

“It was a little frustrating last year,” she said. “The grant was written for seventh-graders, but we had a lot of eighth-graders who wanted to participate.”

She said a grant has been written to provide a program for those eighth-graders, who are now freshmen, but “we won’t hear about that until October.”

This year’s plans include the second year of the GEAR UP program that started with last year’s seventh-graders. Adams said 93 students have signed up for a class that will deal with topics such as “Why College,” choosing and paying for higher education, career planning and putting together a plan for high school.

It will also include presentations from admissions officers representing community and private colleges.

A GEAR UP Club for seventh-graders will begin shortly before Christmas and continue after the winter break.

Adams said she is planning to have at least three activities for high school students to promote college awareness, to be held by the end of next May. Also in the planning process are a winter-term prep class for the SAT test, a junior high Career Day and a monthly College Day to increase college awareness. A GEAR UP Web site for high school students is also in the works.

“These are baby steps,” Adams said. “We’re just hoping every year to do a little more to get kids thinking about college.”