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Birmingham schools are getting the college conversation started early with the GEAR UP program.

A simple poster contest gets seventh and eighth-grade students thinking about what they have to do now to prepare for college admissions.

Students held a rally at Phillips Academy with a powerful theme: everyone who wants to go to college can go to college.

The highlight was the poster contest. Students designed posters based on any colleges they chose. The winners from each school squared off at the rally.

Kamil Goodman's group chose Alabama State University

"Some of my family members went to Alabama State University and I really think Alabama State has opportunities there. As they say in their slogan: opportunity is here," said Inglenook, an eighth grader at Inglenook.

"I learned about the housing the history, the tuition and the academics," Xavior Larry said.

Larry is thinking about preparing for college now. That means what it takes to get into that college, GPA, ACT scores, the works.

"I think it is important to know that Birmingham City is involved in one of the premier college readiness programs in the entire country. It's called GEAR UP,” said Debbie Hobbs, an external evaluator for GEAR UP.

Project coordinator Donna Turner says GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

“It's a seven-year award that was presented to the Birmingham School System to provide a layer of support for middle school students in the seventh and eighth grade and we would follow them into their completion of their first year in college."

Turner says waiting until a student is in 11th and 12th grades is like playing Russian Roulette.

"Sometimes their GPA is not where it needs to be. Sometimes they are taking the ACT and it's not where they need it to be. If they know this information now, they can start preparing it," Turner said.

"They had to understand where the university was founded, the president. …what does it take to get into an institution," Hobbs added.

They’re winners of a poster contest now, but Hobbs says if the kids stay with the program, college is going to be accessible for them, which is exciting for all the program’s coordinators."

Source: WBRC FOX6 News -