In the News

At Cummings High School this week, about 40 incoming freshmen are getting ready for college by getting ready for high school.

Jaida Torain said her parents sent her to the two-week GEAR UP camp because they want her to take her education seriously.

“They wanted me to see how high school was and college,” she said, “and to know this isn’t a joke.”

Torain’s parents did not go to college.

“They wanted to, but they didn’t have the chance,” she said.

In the mornings the rising freshmen get math and literacy classes. After lunch, they get lessons on organizational skills like note-taking and making personal schedules. The counselors tell them they will need these skills to get through high school, when they will have more responsibility for choosing their classes and getting their work done; and in college, where no one will wake them up in the morning, make them go to class or start projects in time.

The counselors at this camp were really school counselors who see what makes the difference between failure and success in high school.

“Handing in work late is the No. 1 reason my students fail,” said Camille Wilson, a counselor at Hillside High School in Durham, “not because they didn’t know the subject or didn’t do the work.”

She said getting organized and making a schedule that accounts for everything from school work and extracurricular activities to chores at home and meals is one of the organizational skills that keeps students from falling behind.

The junior counselors were college students who graduated from Alamance-Burlington schools and could relate what college classes, work and life are.

They tell the kids fresh out of middle school how important it is to get to know professors in college and show them you care about their class.

“You have to show them you want a good grade,” said Thalia Sovalvarro, a rising senior at Fayetteville State University and graduate of Graham High School.

Sovalvarro was also an Elon Academy scholar — meaning she was, and is, part of Elon University’s small but effective college-access program. She said GEAR UP was not as intense as Elon Academy, which houses high-school students on Elon’s campus for a month every summer.

GEAR UP reaches a lot more students than Elon Academy. Elon takes about 24 students a year, while GEAR UP was reaching about 40 at each high school. Elon’s program also has been around long enough to show its effectiveness, while GEAR UP is in its second year in Alamance County.

Michelle Branch, a teacher at Cummings, said the program is still growing in Alamance County, and every year they come up with new things to try. She said she hoped parents could get some of this training, too, so they know more about what their children need to do to get into college and how to teach life skills, like scheduling, at home.

All the local high schools had a camp this summer and visited UNC-Greensboro. Cummings was the last one to hold its camp. Middle schools get a similar week-long camp with a college visit to N.C. Central University.

GEAR UP started last summer in Alamance County with middle school students, and is following the same class through high school, said Jaya Martin, GEAR UP coordinator.

“We want them to start focusing on graduation from day one,” said Martin, a Williams High School graduate.

GEAR UP — short for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — is a U.S. Department of Education program. The UNC system administers it in North Carolina. The state got $18.5 million, of which Alamance County’s program has gotten $745,973. The local program is in its second of seven years of the grant funds.

Source: Times-News