GEAR UP grant to benefit Pike County Schools

Published 4:00 am Friday, June 12, 2015

Almost 200 students from Pike County Schools will benefit from a seven-year, $49 million grant designed to help children become college ready. The statewide grant will help fund activities during their high school careers as well as full scholarships to any public community or technical college in the state.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education to allow 21 districts to benefit from the GEAR UP program, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

Superintendent Mark Bazzell sees GEAR UP as a “unique and wonderful opportunity for Pike County Schools to continue closing achievement and opportunity gaps while enhancing professional development and improving college planning at school and in the home.  When successful, these efforts will lead to increased graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Upcoming seventh- and eighth-graders from Banks School and upcoming eighth-graders from Pike County High School and Goshen High School are automatically part of the cohort group to receive the resources from this grant

“This is something monumental for our kids,” said Willie Wright, Pike County High School principal. “It will give them an opportunity to charter uncharted territories that have been unfamiliar to them before. This program will make students realize that postsecondary education is an option available to all students.

While none of the school year programs are set in stone, the summer enrichment programs beginning on July 13 at Banks School, Pike County High School and Goshen High School will focus on STEM, science, technology, engineering and math.

Teachers and staff are already meeting and making plans for the upcoming school year to make the most of this program.

“They told us to dream big,” said LaToya Gay, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Banks School. “Whatever we want to do, we can possibly get funding, as long as we justify the need.” Gay said that monthly activities would be held throughout the year.

The grant is not only beneficial for the students, but the parents will be able to be involved, as well.

“I am excited about this grant,” said Lee Scott, Banks School principal. “It will not only help our students gain exposure to postsecondary options, but also help provide parents with the resources they need to ensure that all of these students are successful.”

Gay said that financial literacy classes would be offered to the parents to help them become prepared for college expenses.

“The whole process is making sure your child is ready for college,” Gay said. “A lot of the kids that I teach, if you asked them what they want to be when they grow up, they all say a professional athlete. We know that is a small percentage, so we just want them to be thinking about it as early as seventh grade. Even if you want to be a welder or a farmer, you need to know how to get there.”

Teachers will also benefit from the grant in the form of professional development courses.

“The purpose is to expose students in our region to opportunities as early as possible,” Gay said, “even if that are not going to a four year university, but a technical college.

“I hope to see them become passionate about life after high school. I hope for them to be able to see that there are opportunities and that college is for everybody. I hope the grant will break a generational cycle. I think a lot of the kids I teach will be first generation students that will go to college. I just hope a light comes on and they are eager and excited about things that they can do.”