GEAR UP SWV works to start conversation about colleges, careers with middle school students

Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 6:20 PM EDT
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RALEIGH COUNTY, W.Va. (WVVA) - This week, 22 schools across five southern West Virginia districts are joining hundreds of institutions across the country in celebrating National GEAR UP Week. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is an initiative that uses federal grant funds to work to increase the number of students pursuing higher education after high school.

The five days between September 25 and September 29 are about recognizing the great work that students have already achieved while looking ahead to the milestones that they have yet to accomplish on their journeys to success.

“GEAR UP Southern West Virginia and GEAR UP the program nationally helps to prepare students for post-secondary education,” explained Jessica Lilly, Communications Manager for GEAR UP SWV. “We help them to believe and realize that they can achieve their dreams if that means going to college or, you know, attending training and whatever that means after high school.”

Sarah Milam is the Raleigh County Coordinator for the GEAR UPSWV program. She tells WVVA that this idea of getting students prepared for their future can’t come soon enough.

“In middle school, we want them to start thinking about what they want to do, but with the GEAR UP Southern West Virginia program, we can let them experience the opportunities so they’re not just thinking about what they want to do, they’re actually getting to experience it and really understand, I guess, different career options.”

As part of her position, Milam will be working with current seventh and eighth graders across the county and following their progress up until their high school graduation. Throughout that time, she will be helping them advance in their studies, assisting them in applying for financial aid and scholarships, and even taking them on college campus tours- all in an effort to lessen the stresses that come with choosing a career path.

“Studies are showing, you know, that the sooner that we can get them thinking about the next step in their career, the more then we can be a support system to them, then the more likely that they are to, you know, go on with those plans.”

Milam says Raleigh County middle schools are using National GEAR UP week as a kickoff for their local program, and at Independence Middle School, they’re doing it in style with a spirit week. On Tuesday, the students wore tie-dye to show that effort is tied to success.

Students and parents can get a further explanation of the GEAR UP initiative in Raleigh County during a meet and greet set for Wednesday, October 4, to answer any questions about how the program will be impacting and helping local students. This meeting is for all seventh and eighth graders in Raleigh County.