Tupelo eight-graders GEAR UP for college

Students at Tupelo Middle School are getting an early start on college preparations, thanks to a new program in the district.
GEAR UP – Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program – begins taking steps with middle school students to prepare them for college. It starts with a class of seventh graders and follows that particular class all the way to its first year of college.
Tupelo Middle School joined the program last year for the Class of 2014. It will follow only that class, now in eighth grade, beyond its graduation at Tupelo High School. Data from that class will be used to determine whether to expand the program to other classes at the school.
There are 603 students in Tupelo’s GEAR UP class. The school received a $53,000 grant this year from the United States Department of Education. The program is under the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning.
The program has several arms. It takes students on trips to college campuses and recognizes students who have reached certain incentives like honor roll, improved attendance or improved grades. It also provides free practice standardized tests and gives teachers an outlet to provide more technology for their classrooms.
“We’re tying to boost attendance and achievement,” said Brock English, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at TMS and the school’s GEAR UP parent liaison.
The school also has a GEAR UP college coach. Pam Carson spends time each week leading workshops for the children in the classroom and making herself available to provide any help or advice.
“The main thing is to get kids to have high expectations, stay in school, work hard and take the courses to prepare them for post-secondary education,” Carson said.

A success
Janelle Foy, an eighth-grader at TMS, said the program has improved her study habits, teaching her to be prepared, take good notes and avoid waiting until the last minute to begin studying.
It has also inspired her to set a goal to one day become a judge.
“GEAR UP really changes your mind to get you prepared for college and to get you to understand that college is important for you to have a successful job,” Foy said. “It motivates you, and it helps you to understand the opportunities you have.”
Fellow student Victoria Young said she has learned not just the importance of attending college, but also techniques for preparing herself to get there.
Among the missions of GEAR UP is to send every student in the program to one college campus every year. Last year, TMS students took trips to Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Itawamba Community College’s Fulton and Tupelo campuses and Ole Miss’ Tupelo campus.
Two weeks ago, the program paid for every eighth-grade student to take the ACT EXPLORE test, a pre-ACT test. Not only will taking that test make students more comfortable with taking the ACT, the results will show them areas for improvement.
The results will also come with an interest inventory to provide students with some suggested career ideas.
“I think that will be huge for those kids,” said Paul Moton, TMS GEAR UP on-site coordinator and an administrative intern at the school. “When they get those scores back and look at them, they will realize they can go to college and will know what they need to do to get their scores up.”
The program also provides funding for teachers at the school to get supplies that will better help their students learn. Last year, for instance, math teachers got clickers for their students that allowed them to see how each student answered a certain question posted on the board.
GEAR UP provides incentives to students who reach certain goals. Last year, the program gave prizes to students for making the honor roll, improving their grades and being in the class with best attendance. As a result, students are still recognized even if the don’t make straight A’s.
“I think it has been an excellent program for the middle school,” TMS Principal Linda Clifton said. “We were able to recognize a lot of children who might not have been recognized in the past.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal