GEAR UP continues to help students

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 17, 2003

Although everyone may not know what the acronym stands for, the GEAR UP program has touched the lives of many students in the Ironton City School System in the past four years.

Standing for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, GEAR UP is a partnership between Ohio University Southern and the Ironton school systems that is funded through the Ohio Board of Regents and the U.S. Department of Education.

"The very bottom line of GEAR UP is to help more students go to college," said Director Jeffrey Handley. "In order to do that, we provide tutoring programs, information about colleges, help instructors improve their teaching skills and give parents information about how affordable information can be."

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GEAR UP has provided students with a wide array of opportunities including tutoring, mentoring, college visits, sponsoring the Tech Prep programs in technology and health care, etiquette classes, a care package program for the military, the Jump Start summer programs to prepare students for the upcoming year, cultural trips to places such as New York City and much more.

Although there are other smaller partnership programs, the Ironton GEAR UP program is one of only two state sites. Looking back at the first four years, Handley said he is pleased with the success.

"I think that we have increased student awareness and improved the students' readiness to go to college," he said. "Overall GPA and attendance has gone up.

"I believe the schools are better now, and I would like to think that is in part because of GEAR UP," he said. "I think we have positively impacted teachers, administrators and students."

Ironton High School freshmen Ashley Barnes and Katie Washburn agree. They both took part in several GEAR UP activities during the school year, including college visits to Marshall University and Ohio University, an etiquette class at OUS and more.

"I think it has helped kids learn a lot more about college and get good grades," Washburn said. "GEAR UP has improved a lot of people's attendance (with incentives.)"

While Washburn could not pick a program that she enjoyed the most, the choice was easy for Barnes.

"The care packages for the soldiers meant the most to me," she said. "I just think it is good we are giving back to the soldiers after what they have done for us."

Washburn is one of 30 students who will be visiting New York City in June. She has never been to the Big Apple before and said she is excited about the chance.

Both girls wanted to encourage incoming freshman to take advantage of all the opportunities provided by GEAR UP.

"I would tell them to do as much as they can with it," Washburn said. "(GEAR UP) can really help them improve their grades and prepare for college."

As the GEAR UP program prepares to enter the 2003-2004 school year, its fifth and final year under the original grant, Handley said he is optimistic that the program may continue beyond the original designation.

"From the very beginning, there has been discussion of a sixth year by the U. S. Department of Education," he said. "We should find out by the end of the summer."

It is also possible that the program will be renewed for another five year designation, he said.

Ironton High School Principal and soon-to-be Superintendent Dean Nance agreed that GEAR UP has been a tremendous benefit to the district and has impacted students in so many ways that it is hard to measure the effects.

"We have been able to afford these students opportunities we would not have been able to financially afford," he said. "Jeff Handley and his staff have been excellent partners throughout the maturity of the grant."

Nantz said he hopes the legislators look closely at the program and realize how important it is to continue it.

"We have developed a pattern of success with many of these students," he said. "Hopefully, the students will continue this success even if GEAR UP grant is not continued."

If the words of administrators are not enough to convince legislators, maybe they should listen to the students themselves.

"I definitely want to see them do it again," Barnes said. "They need to let other kids have the same chances we had."