Gear up students with school counselor

Over the summer, eight Squalicum High School ninth graders won scholarships to attend Envision U, a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) summer camp at Western Washington University (WWU). Taylor Bergquist, Amiya Grayson, Cassy La, Taylor Norton, Jasmine Olivas, Jennifer Rodriguez, Dylan Schenkel, and Svitlana Shashkina spent four days on the WWU campus exploring the life of a college student and gaining leadership skills.

It was Jennifer Rodriguez’s first time attending a summer camp. “It was fun. I got to meet people from all over Washington and I still keep in touch with some of them.”

The camp provided valuable information on scholarships and the college experience, while creating connections across the state. “We all had an interest in going to college and planning for our future,” said Cassy La.

The camp scholarships are made possible because of Squalicum High School’s designation as a GEAR UP Washington program site.

Governor Jay Inslee recently issued a proclamation recognizing September 23-27, 2019 as GEAR UP Week, commemorating the continuing success of this federally-funded college access program. Since its inception in 1999, GEAR UP has improved educational outcomes for millions of students across the United States, including more than 35,000 students in Washington state this year.

Ninth grade students at Squalicum High School have been participating in the program since 2017. The program is designed to follow them from seventh grade through twelfth grade, plus one year after they graduate. The Squalicum class of 2023 was selected by GEAR UP Washington because they have higher numbers of students who are from families with low incomes and many students will be the first person in their family to go to college.

“GEAR UP is so many things. It provides experiences that help students discover their sense of self and how that relates to the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful, no matter what career path they may choose,” said Erin Neisinger, a school counselor and GEAR UP Coordinator. “The program isn’t meant to be a silo program and is the work of everyone in the building. My role is to enhance what school counselors are already doing and build on it.”

GEAR UP was created to ensure all students are academically, socially, and financially prepared to enter and complete the postsecondary program or institution of their choice. The grant funds a variety of career-oriented activities designed increase the number of students who stay in school and succeed in post-secondary education or training.

Last year, Neisinger supported student participation in Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) at Shuksan, helping them serve as eighth grade mentors to the incoming sixth graders. This year, those same students benefited from the link crew at Squalicum, a program that helps juniors and seniors welcome and orient incoming freshmen.

While the students were at Shuksan, Neisinger organized Career Cafes where professionals shared their passions and career journeys with students. Cassy La reflected on the variety of speakers and careers, “It’s not like success means the same thing to every single person. GEAR UP showed us that success can look like anything. We have gotten to meet many people we wouldn’t have gotten to talk to.”

Sarah Loreen received a GEAR UP scholarship to attend a Harry Potter camp and the Care of Magical Creatures camp. “I had never been to a camp before. Ms. Neisinger made me to do it,” said Loreen, “but I’m grateful to her for making me do it because I had a lot of fun.”

“The work of GEAR UP is truly the work of all stakeholders, from families, teachers, community and students,” said Neisinger. “Together, we have an opportunity to use the GEAR UP grant to help students graduate with a plan that starts them on their career journey.  I look forward to getting to know 130 students from the other incoming middle schools this year and all the fun experiences yet to come.”

“GEAR UP can help us do lots of things. You just have to talk to Ms. Neisinger, and she’s got you covered,” said Cassy La.

For more information about the GEAR UP program at Bellingham Public Schools, contact Erin Neisinger. To learn more about the statewide GEAR UP program, please contact Weiya Liang, Director of the Washington State GEAR UP program at (360) 753-7884, or by email at weiyal@wsac.wa.gov.

About: The Washington Student Achievement Council received its fourth consecutive state GEAR UP grant in September 2017. The seven-year, $24.5 million award provides direct services to over 5,500 students and their families each year through partnerships with 26 high-poverty school districts statewide. The program serves students starting in 7th grade and follows them through their first year of postsecondary education. With additional state funding of $1 million per year to expand the program, and the program’s dollar-for-dollar cost share requirement, the total investment will be over $49 million. For more information, visit www.gearup.wa.gov.

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