In the News

Grant helps kids eye higher education

When Jacob Rose, a junior at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High, was in seventh grade he was reading on a third-grade level. He was also small for his age and shy. He was bullied in school. He didn’t know it, but his whole life was about to change because the Jasper County School District had just received a GEAR UP grant.

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is “…designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. … grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

South Carolina’s Commission for Higher Education, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, acknowledging the relationship between economic development and education, applied for and received a GEAR UP grant in 2011.

Money was directed to 22 schools, many of them located along what has been called South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame.

Jasper schools hired GEAR UP coaches Nyrita Austin and Kelvin Simmons, who arrange for college field trips, guest speakers, enrichment programs, tutoring opportunities and stay in constant touch with GEAR UP students, parents and teachers.

It appears Austin and Simmons have adopted all 140 students and the students who have embraced the program clearly love them back.

Rose was hanging out in the school library when Austin first tracked him down.

“She talked me into coming to GEAR UP. Now I am outgoing, doing dual enrollment (taking college classes for college credit while in high school), and plan to go to college to major in Theater Arts. I now read on a college level,” said Rose, who is now over 6 feet tall and is no longer being bullied.

A’Kiera Mervin, Tiffiny Horne, Sabian Wyatt, Niarobi Pollins, Kamrin Williams and Rose, all GEAR UP juniors, love visiting colleges.

They find college students are friendly, informative and treat them with respect.

“Nobody can teach the youth like the youth,” Williams said.

“You don’t go to college because your friends are going, you go to make yourself better,” Pollins said.

Asked if it’s smart to go to college when it’s so expensive and even college grads can’t find jobs, Williams said, “It may be hard to get a job after college, but it’s almost impossible to get a job with just a high school degree.”

“You need a high school diploma just to work at Wendy’s,” said Wyatt.

Said Mervin: “We are glad to be learning about tuition costs, FAFSA and ways to pay for college.”

About 85 percent of the class is enthused about GEAR UP, what about the other 15 percent?

“They are too attached to Ridgeland, afraid to be better than what they are. Some people try, but then things get hard and they quit,” Horne said.

Christy Thompson, Jasper SD Executive Director of Secondary Schools and Alternative Programs, leads the program. She, along with her staff, set standards and decide how to allocate the $150,000 per year of grant funding.

Is GEAR UP working?

According to Thompson:

■ 19 GEAR UP juniors have participated in dual enrollment, compared to seven seniors (who are not in the program).

■ Attendance rates for GEAR UP students are better than for any other RHHS grade level.

■ GEAR UP parents, Angela Habersham and Alfreda Mikell, appreciate the program because without it their daughters would never have visited 12 colleges.

“Dual enrollment courses are offered at RHHS so I don’t have to burn fuel for my daughter traveling to TCL in Bluffton and the Program pays for books,” Angela Habersham commented.

■ Next year, when this cohort graduates, we will know if their graduation rate is up and if more of them will attend post-secondary school.

Source: Savannah Morning News