MARION - Year one of the GEAR UP program in Marion City Schools is in the books, and officials operating the initiative said they're pleased with the results.
"By all accounts, we would deem it a success," Site Director Kelly M. Garrett said. "Last year, we were able to double the number of Harding High School students who completed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). We also increased, by over 40 percent, the number of Harding High School students who applied for Marion Community Foundation scholarships.
"We don't feel that we can claim that entire number, because Marion Community Foundation did a great job of marketing in some ways that they haven't before. At the same time, they weren't seeing that kind of growth in other school districts, so I think we can lay a claim to at least a healthy portion of that increase."
GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federally-funded grant program that targets middle and high school students.
Promoting post-secondary education in all of its forms, whether it be college or university or technical training, is the goal of the GEAR UP program, Garrett said.
"We're charged with serving students in grades seven through 12, helping to prepare them so that if they would decide to go pursue post-secondary education they're well prepared for that," Garrett said. "Broadening their horizons in seventh and eighth grades, kind of opening their eyes, and then helping them from that point forward to design their own individualized pathway. That's a word that we use a lot at Marion City Schools.
"Looking at making sure that when they leave our building, they're ready for life. That they've got something more than a diploma, which is the diploma-plus language that we use within the district. Even though specifically within the guidelines of the grant, we're preparing those students for post-secondary education, a lot of what we do is relevant even if they don't immediately pursue post-secondary education."
The advisers for the Marion City Schools GEAR UP program have used a wide range of activities and strategies to promote post-secondary education to students at Harding High School and Grant Middle School. One-on-one advising, parent meetings, needs analyses, workshops, college visits, job shadowing and internships are some of the activities the staff has conducted for students during the past year.
Ryan Sayre, a junior at Harding, said the GEAR UP program advisers have assisted him in several areas, including preparation for the ACT.
"It helps you make big decisions for the next level of education," he said. "It makes everything easier and less stressful. We get to take two free tests and they're $50 each, so that helps. Two free opportunities to take is pretty nice."
Sayre, 16, said he thinks all of his classmates should take advantage of the service offered by the GEAR UP program.
"They need to be here because it really helps make everything easier," he said. "When they first came here, I was kind of questioning what they really do, but when I finally came in it was a great decision for me. I think students should be required to be here."
Although he has yet to make a decision about what academic program he intends to pursue, Sayre said he does plan to attend a four-year college in Ohio.
"It's a long process," he said.
Besides Garrett, there are three advisers who work in the GEAR UP program: Jane Arnold, Jennifer Boleyn and Austin King.
In 2014, Ohio was awarded a $24.5 million grant to fund the GEAR UP program. The grant will allow the program to operate over a seven-year period.
In addition to Marion City Schools, the program also is in place in four other Ohio districts: Crooksville Exempted Village Schools in Perry County, Norwood City Schools in Hamilton County and Parma City Schools in Cuyahoga County.
According to the GEAR UP page on the Marion City Schools website, the program has four objectives:
•Increase the academic performance and preparation for post-secondary education primarily in the areas of math and reading with emphasis on reading across the content areas.
•Increase the rate of high school graduation and participation in post-secondary education through a systematic program of student academic and personal development.
•Increase GEAR UP students' and their families' knowledge of post-secondary education options, preparation and financing.
•Expand the GEAR UP schools; network of community partners to sustain support services for college and career preparation.
Source: Marion Star