- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Today’s economy and job market are making a college degree or trade school education almost mandatory, and one group is helping students reach their goal of a higher education.

The national organization GEAR UP - or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs - helps income-eligible students apply and enter a college or university.

“The support the students get from us is amazing,” said Chrissie Henschler, public relations and professional development coordinator for GEAR UP Wyoming. “We help them get through school and in to higher education.”

The University of Wyoming is the hub of operations in partnership with the seven state community colleges. Coordinators at each college work with 2,300 grade students in the state’s many junior high and high schools to get students the help they need, said Adam Keizer, program manager at Laramie County Community College.

“Throughout the week, we go into the schools and contact every student we try to serve,” Keizer told the Laramie Boomerang (https://bit.ly/1OIEj1q). “When they get out of homeroom or class, they come talk to a coordinator. We look at their grades together, determine if they need tutoring and help set goals for attending college.”

National GEAR UP Week is this week. Each college has events planned, such as a barbecue or media blitz. LCCC will give T-shirts to its school liaisons and show videos to students in Laramie and Albany counties.

The program offers different services for the students as they get closer to applying to colleges, Keizer said.

“For junior high students, we focus on the social side - getting them comfortable with our staff and encouraging them to begin working on their résumé through community service and getting involved in their church,” he said.

As the students get closer to high school graduation, programs shift toward helping with finances and scholarships as well as important ACT preparation, Keizer said.

“When they become juniors or seniors, the rubber really hits the road,” he said.

While the end goal is reaching a higher education institution, students first need to graduate 12th grade, which is where possible tutoring comes in to play.

“In my mind, it’s not only about getting them excited about the idea of college,” Keizer said.

“It’s about giving them a pass saying, if you are part of this program, we can get you into college.”

Students who do get to college are not dropped by GEAR UP, Henschler said, but are offered other programs to help them adjust to the college life.

“We have a tutor program that can be utilized, and we rent out tech equipment like smart pens, iPads and laptops,” she said. “These can be expensive, and we want students to have the equipment they need.”

All of this assistance can mean a lot to students - many keep in touch as they go through their college careers, Henschler said.

“One senior who was in GEAR UP comes in all the time and offers to help whenever she can,” she said. “We have former students come back and work with GEAR UP after graduating.”

The program isn’t meant to push students to one particular college, just to help them attain their higher education goal, Henschler said.

“GEAR UP has built a wonderful foundation for our students to give them the keys for secondary education,” she said.

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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