Crowd of parents, kids turns out to Gear Up

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Some 80 families showed up Thursday night to learn about the Gear Up program, which will provide about $40,000 per year to this year’s seventh-graders to help them get ready for college.

About 193 attended the pizza dinner and family night, Gear Up Coordinator Kristin Adams said.

“I feel good. I was very pleased with the turnout last night,” she said.

Adams said there is still opportunity for seventh-graders to get involved in the program even if they didn’t attend the event.

Gear Up, operating on a $40,000 annual federal grant with matching in-kind and staff time from School District 55, will work with this year’s seventh-grade students, the Class of 2014, in an effort to increase the number of students graduating from high school and moving on to college.

“There will be a variety of activities provided directly to your students,” Adams told parents Thursday night. Sweet Home is one of 12 Oregon districts receiving the funding.

Sweet Home often has low numbers of students who attend a four-year college after high school, according to district officials.

Students finishing the program will have an opportunity to win four years worth of scholarships to help pay for college, one of the major obstacles to students continuing on.

Principal Hal Huschka explained that he wants to change the culture in Sweet Home, so families understand that their children can go to college.

Adams said that the scholarships are limited – the district currently has 13 available at $4,000 per year – but the district could decide to increase the number of awards and decrease the individual amounts given out.

“My hope is that people focus on the educational opportunities that are going to be available to their children over the next six to 10 years,” she said.

Rather than focusing on the scholarships, she said, students should focus on the opportunities that will arise from having $40,000 per year following the class.

“A lot can happen in those six years,” Adams said. By the time they finish, those students will have good ideas how to get into and through college, and they will have a better idea what to expect and what to do when they get there.

Students can get involved at any time, she said. Signups for the Gear Up Club are this week, and to get into the eighth-grade “college 101” class next year, students will have to participate in the club.

At this age level, the goal is mainly to get students interested in the word “college,” she said. “They’re going to talk about college life, the different types of colleges out there.”

They’ll talk about their various personal interests and start matching those up with careers and the appropriate schools to get into those careers, Adams said. Mentoring will be a major part of the program “to open the conversation that it is possible (to reach and attend college). It’s not a dream. It’s a plan.”