GEAR UP Provides Post-Secondary Options

It is an exciting time to be a graduating high school student in 2022 in the state of Tennessee.  Post-secondary education options abound.  Programs such as four year universities, community colleges, Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), and military service all provide high school graduates with a plethora of options upon receiving their high school diploma.  Navigating these options, however, can be challenging.  Sometimes, students aren’t even aware of the options available to them.  That’s where programs like GEAR UP can help Haywood County students take advantage of post-secondary choices.

GEAR UP is a government funded program that stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.  GEAR UP has been implemented in Haywood County Schools as a support for Haywood High School students since 2012 and is led by Jackie Whitten.  

Among the main priorities of the program is to expose students to the college and post-secondary experience.  

“One of GEAR UP’s priorities is to make sure high school students visit college campuses and are exposed to a piece of that experience,”  Jackie said.  “I love taking students on a college tour and letting them see all the different buildings and learn about the culture of the college and see the other students there.  I also take parents on college tours and it gives them an idea of what’s available for their child on a post-secondary level.”

Students and their parents are able to get a taste of the post-secondary experience for free because GEAR UP funds the visits.

After a student is exposed to the variety of  post-secondary options available to them, the application process and understanding the requirements of admission can be daunting.  Part of GEAR UP’s support entalis ACT prep work for students as well as other support for challenges that may arise during the process.

“There are a lot of different things that GEAR UP does.  We are a holistic, college access program.  We pay for data driven, academic tutoring as well as ACT tutoring.  We help with credit recovery, so there are a lot of ways GEAR UP interacts with students,” Jackie explained.

Other than support on the academic side of the application process, GEAR UP also helps students and parents navigate the sometimes challenging and confusing maze of paperwork that must be completed for financial aid as well as admission. 

“The  FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) paperwork is the paperwork that is the most time consuming because it asks for a lot of financial information.  Parents have to provide their information and students have to provide their own information.  We’re holding FAFSA nights around the community in order to provide some support for the process,” Jackie said.

Not only does GEAR UP help with traditional college applications, it also offers support for students who are interested in the military or schools like TCAT.

“GEAR UP helps students find information about opportunities in the military or find information about career and technical schools like TCAT.  We want to help students access as many post-secondary options as possible,” Jackie explained.

Jackie also discussed what obstacles may deter students from fully exploring all post-secondary options available to them.  She explained that some students do not have much of an awareness of options after high school while other students are simply afraid of the change that occurs with moving away from home or starting a new chapter in their lives.  

“Some hindrances of students not pursuing post-secondary education could be lack of parental support, lack of information about the process.  I had one student recently tell me that she was just scared to go because it was something new.  I try to help them work through those things because once they have an idea about what college or career/tech school is then they become more comfortable with it, “Jackie said.  

One way Jackie and GEAR UP help to alleviate some uncertainty about college is by offering students full immersion in a collegiate program over the summer.  

“During the summer, I take a group of students and put them in a college immersion experience with 200 other students across the state.  They get to live at the college, eat at the college, learn at the college – it’s a fully collegiate experience and it gives the students an idea of what college will be.  GEAR UP allows us to do that,” Jackie said.

Haywood County Schools is fortunate to have three different post-secondary support groups at Haywood High School to support students and their desire to better themselves educationally after high school. The Ayers Foundation counselors and the high school counselors both partner with GEAR UP to make sure every student has a chance to learn about post-secondary options and apply for the financial aid to those schools should they choose to do so.  

GEAR UP is just another example of the support HCS hopes to provide to students and families in Haywood County.  

For more information on GEAR UP as well as The Ayers Foundation’s work in Haywood County Schools, please visit the links below.