BY RYAN QUINN
About 1,300 West Virginia eighth graders danced, laughed and cheered Wednesday in Charleston at the kickoff event for a program to get kids from disadvantaged areas and backgrounds into college or other post-high school training — and take others with them.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education granted the Mountain State $21 million in its third Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant, according to Jessica Kennedy.
Kennedy — director of communications and outreach for the Division of Student Affairs, part of West Virginia’s public higher education agencies — said the GEAR UP grant will serve 17,000 students over seven years, with a specific focus on about 3,100 current eighth graders whom it will aid each year of the program.
Many of those students, representing 32 schools in 10 counties, filled a Clay Center auditorium Wednesday. They did the popular “Whip/Nae Nae” dance as college mascots from Concord, Fairmont State, Marshall and West Liberty universities led them onstage. The students also listened to a motivational speaker who tore off his shirt to reveal a Superman outfit midway through a talk in which he said they could overcome troubled upbringings to be successful.
Three students also won $250 college scholarships in a random drawing.
“It’s a very holistic, sort of wraparound program,” Kennedy said of GEAR UP. “… I mean we do things like financial aid nights and ACT prep and things like that, tutoring, but we also really work on developing students as people because we know that that’s a really important part of making sure they’re successful in life, and especially in college.” Read the full story »