Students within Burke County Public Schools are still being served by GEAR UP, which is a grant-based program out of Appalachian State University that gives students opportunities to learn about educational options after high school. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Jessica Stockham and Kim Logan, GEAR UP coordinators for BCPS, work with students on completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), applying for college and scholarships and much more.
During the pandemic, those services have not stopped, but have just been administered in a different way. Most activities that happened before the school closure were able to turn virtual, including Lunch n’ Learns with Work in Burke for students looking for job opportunities in Burke County. They also participated in virtual college tours with colleges and universities throughout North Carolina, including North Carolina State University.
At BCPS graduation ceremonies, GEAR UP presented graduates with tote bags with high school logos on the front. Inside were college and scholarship resources and a book entitled “Orientation to Graduation” written by Austin Helms and Savannah Putnam, two BCPS alumni. The book gives insight and advice from two students about their college journey from freshman to college graduates.
The 2020 graduates who have been served by GEAR UP since the sixth grade will still have access to the benefits of the program for a year after their high school graduation. Logan said, “We will follow them to their first year in college, and we are working on ways to still connect with these students to help them in anyway we can.
Logan and Stockham serve students but also work to get the word out to parents. Logan said many parents don’t realize their high schoolers are automatically eligible for GEAR UP.
“When we tell parents of all the opportunities that GEAR UP provides they respond by saying ‘well I don’t think my child is in the program,’" she said. "Many of them do not realize there are no eligibility requirements to be a part of GEAR UP and their students are part of it already.”
Come fall, GEAR UP will be looking into different, innovative ways to provide the same opportunities to students as they have in the past.
They encourage parents and students to check their email at least once a week and to follow GEAR UP on social media on Instagram and Facebook.
“We are not trying to send them homework, but just some exciting materials that will spark their interest in thinking about the future," Stockham said. "We even want parents to follow us so they can see what we are doing and putting out so they can encourage their students to be thinking about their futures.”
“In a time where there is so much uncertainty, I am grateful our school system continues to provide service to our students including the GEAR UP program," BCPS Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam said. "It is so important that students are still given the opportunity to explore pathways to higher education. Thank you to Mrs. Logan and Mrs. Stockham for continuing to put our students first.”
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