By Ashley Conroy - email
RIDGELAND, MS (WLBT) - It's known as "Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs" or "GEAR UP," and it's designed to help Mississippi students graduate high school and enter college.
The program held its first orientation for school coordinators and coaches at the Embassy Suites in Ridgeland Wednesday.
Coordinators work on site at a school's location to help students. Often, they are teachers and/or administrators.
Coaches also travel to the schools where GEAR UP is participating to provide additional training and "coach" young people along the process.
State Director Nira Coleman-Johnson said they currently help over nine thousand students statewide.
"One of the great things is, that we have federal projects such as this that are working to eradicate the education drop out rate," Coleman-Johnson said.
Those coordinators and coaches who participate in the program took notes at the orientation and listened to innovate ideas to take back to helping their students.
"And the children begin to recognize those who value their education," said George County School Coordinator Sonia Hudson.
"They know that they college coach is going to come one day a week and talk to them. We talk to parents," said College Coach Rebecca Marble.
GEAR UP tracks students from middle school through high school in hopes of leading them to college.
They work in a "co-hort" system where they follow the same group of students from 7th grade through the 12th grade.
Students participating in this year's program are entering the 9th grade.
Coleman-Johnson said they also educate parents on how to help their child get to college.
They teach parents about grant possibilities, financial aid and scholarships for college.
"As it relates to providing them information concerning college admissions, requirements for graduation," said Coleman-Johnson.
GEAR UP Coach James Chambers was a former principal and is now retired. He decided to go to back to work with GEAR UP to continue to motivate Mississippi students.
"My goal ultimately is to make sure that every one of my students that I'm presently working with walk across that stage in 2014," said Chambers.
GEAR UP is a federally funded program active in 47 states. In Mississippi, they currently service 41 different schools in 20 school districts.
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