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$49M program aims to raise graduation rate

This year, Greenville Middle, Georgiana and McKenzie schools will begin a new initiative known as Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs or GEAR UP.

The GEAR UP Alabama program seeks to aid low-income students by raising their awareness of college and financial aid options, increasing their participation in academically challenging courses and continuing to support them once they have entered college. GEAR UP Alabama provides service to selected public schools throughout the Black Belt Region with a student population where 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch under the National School Lunch Act. GEAR UP is a seven-year, $49 million grant program that will involve nearly 9,200 students in 17 different counties and 54 schools in the Black Belt Region, according to the GEAR UP Alabama online brochure.

“As a teacher, I saw many students who struggled to be successful in the classroom and who really felt like no one cared about them or their education,” said Renee Goss, GUA site facilitator for GMS.

The program is designed to help students in the seventh and eighth grade and will continue to help them throughout high school and their first year of college or postsecondary study. GEAR UP includes certified programs for trade schools, two-year degree programs and four-year degree programs. It also offers assistance to students seeking scholarships for college as well as those going through the application process.

The program is coordinated by UAB and receives its funding from the U.S Department of Education. It is said that over the next seven years, there will be 50 Alabama schools participating in the program.

“The GEAR UP program has been recognized nationally as one of the most promising pathways to increasing the number of students who are prepared to enter and achieve success in their education and training beyond high school,” said Gov. Robert Bentley. “This grant will help build a solid foundation for our children and will set them up to succeed by being better prepared for post-secondary education and to join the workforce.”

It is the hope of the GEAR UP program organizers and those faculty members involved that participation in this program will encourage students to take an interest in furthering their education after high school. By offering more help, GEAR UP hopes that more students will want to work diligently to achieve goals set forth in the classroom.

“Alabama’s educators work hard each day to prepare students for lifelong success,” said State Superintendent Tommy Bice. “The focus is to ensure that our students are both college and career-ready, and fully engaged in the learning process. GEAR UP provides us with another outstanding resource to help achieve these goals. We are proud to be a part of this new statewide partnership to further student academic achievement.”

Goss hopes that through the GEAR UP program, the schools will be able to reach students who may be at risk for dropping out. She wants to renew the excitement of learning for the students and prepare them for postsecondary education.

“They will be able to receive the training necessary to become successful, productive citizens who can take up the charge to empower and sustain our communities,” said Goss.

GMS will hold its kickoff event Sept. 4 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Georgiana will hold its kickoff event Sept. 15 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and McKenzie will hold its kickoff event on Sept. 29 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.