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The Lehigh Office of Academic Outreach has partnered with local Allentown schools to provide elementary-aged students with a positive college campus experience.

The experience is part of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, which is a federally-funded program found in school districts across America. There are currently four GEAR UP programs in Pennsylvania located in Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Norristown.

The program is “designed to assist under-served school districts with making students dreams of attending college become a reality,” according to its website.

The Allentown GEAR UP program is currently in its third phase, known as GEAR UP-3.This level entails working with students, parents and teachers from the class of 2020.

Twenty-five percent of the students from each class who are identified as having academic potential are placed into the program, with students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“Every student is there for a different reason,” said James Frazier, ‘17, a Lehigh student involved with the program.

Students who are selected for the program are mentored from seventh grade to their freshman year in college. The students in GEAR UP-3 will be provided with college counseling, tutoring and job site visits. The program also works with the parents of students and provides them with counseling, financial literacy workshops and on-campus college visits to learn how to transition their children into higher education.

The Allentown GEAR UP program is partnered with Kutztown University. The school district’s community liaison, Catherine Bianco, said that a number of the students from GEAR UP-2 decided to attend Kutztown for school. She said that there are no statistics at this time about where the students from this program go to college, but they will be collecting statistics from the GEAR UP-3 class of 2020.

Lehigh is directly connected with the GEAR UP Program in Allentown and works with kids from Harrison Morton, Raub, South Mountain and Trexel middle schools. The mentality behind the program is that students will be more likely to attend college if they are introduced to the idea as early as possible.

“This program works to get kids to reach higher and to aspire to be more,” Frazier said.

He added that the program works to keep kids’ minds open to all of the possibilities that they can have in life.

The Office of Academic Outreach has given tours for various young students before, but this is the first time that they have worked with the Allentown School District and their GEAR UP program.

There are four opportunities for these students to visit campus. Forty-three parents, students and teachers attended the first program. The group spent a full day at Lehigh, spending their time touring the campus and attending several activities.

Students had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion that was made up of students from all over campus at the second of the four sessions.

Toni Isreal, ‘17, was a panel member and said she has been getting more involved with kids living in the local area.

“When I heard about this program, I immediately hopped onto it,” she said. “I feel that more kids like them should aspire to go to college and to be successful.”

After the panel discussion, the students went on a tour of Lehigh’s campus and were able to participate in a water filtration demonstration that was led by student Michala J. Blodgett, ‘18. Afterward, the visiting students visited the Umoja house for lunch.

The day ended with a presentation by student Courtney Mesilas, ’17. She discussed her life on campus and her experiences as both a member of Greek life and a student.

The director of the Office of Academic Outreach, Angela Scott, said she wants these students to have a positive experience on a college campus and is hopeful that Lehigh will be able to work with the program for years to come.

She hopes these students will develop a comfort for being on a college campus and their passion or desire to attend college will intensify after being on Lehigh’s campus.

Scott said she wants the students learn it is OK to interact with older students. She hopes their interactions with Lehigh students will help them to build comfort and confidence.

“These kids want to be just like (Lehigh students),” Scott said.

Source: The Brown and White