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INDEPENDENCE — Rising freshman had the opportunity to attend a four-day camp at Grayson County High School to help transition them from middle to high school.
Fourteen students attended the camp during the week of June 9 and participated in several activities to help with the transition, according to Camp Director Vicki Delp.
Students were given a self-directed test to help them decide what careers their interests may lead them to. They also received lessons on study skills, test anxiety, how to deal with bullies, conflict management and what most described as the crowd-favorite — a “reality store” activity.
Alice Funk, regional director for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), said that in the reality store, students choose a career and then receive the average pay check for that career.
They then visit 10 different stations, in which they have to purchase a home, a car, insurance, groceries, clothes and so forth.
“It shows them how far their paycheck can go,” said Funk. “It’s an eye-opening experience.”
The children also had to randomly select how many children they had and whether they were married and whether their spouse worked.
“Say Billy wants to be a mechanic...” said Funk. “He gets his paycheck and goes and buys a brand new Corvette... now he’s out of money and can’t afford a house and even insurance on the car... He’s forced to drive his car hoping nothing happens — or not drive it at all.”
She added that the program teaches the students what reality is like and how far a paycheck really goes in today’s society.
“It’s an awakening of what some of their parents struggle with daily,” added Funk.
Students seemed excited about the program and noted several things they had learned.
“It was fun,” said rising freshman Cassie Compton. “We learned a lot and I feel better prepared for high school.”
Compton said she also learned to, “be careful with your money!”
Emily Leagons agreed, saying she learned two important lessons: go to college and save your money.
Several other students yelled out that they learned how to deal with bullies and how important a college education was to make higher incomes.
Four rising juniors or seniors were selected by the school system to be mentors to the students throughout the week.
Mentor Brian Bolt — a rising senior — said, “I wish we had this when we were freshman.”
Mentor Ethan Higgins agreed, saying, the students “have learned a lot of good information this week.”
“One of the highlights has been having the high school students working as counselors,” said Funk. “Those students [who attended the camp] are entering high school already knowing a friendly face in the crowd of new students they will encounter in August.”
Delp agreed, saying that having the student mentors was “a big asset.”
Another activity that was popular with the students was Geocaching — a high-tech treasure hunt on the school campus.
Students were broken into groups and received Global Positioning System units to help find treasure “buried” around the campus. The coordinates were programmed into the GPS prior to students receiving them and they scrolled through following the arrows until they found all the treasures — which included Slinkies, markers, crayons and bubbles, to name a few.
Funk said GEAR UP is a federally funded program that focuses on increasing the number of students who graduate from high school, while helping them and their families prepare for post-secondary programs.
The program is for school systems with at least 50 percent of its 7th grade population on free or reduced lunch.
The current group of GEAR UP students is Grayson’s second class — the first graduated in 2006 — and includes 175 rising freshman between Grayson County High School and Mount Rogers Combined School.
“We focus on preparing students to finish high school and onward towards college,” said Funk. “Both financially and academically.”
Students go on a number of tours of colleges and can attend the summer transition camp between middle and high school.
“Research shows that one-third of students who enter the 9th grade don’t graduate,” said Funk. “When a child enters high school, it’s either the first step towards graduation or dropping out.”
She added that numbers show if a student does not make a successful transition between the two schools, they are 50 percent more likely to drop-out.
“Talk about pressure on 9th grade teachers,” said Funk. “High school is a different animal for these students. There are greater academic expectations... greater work loads... also greater social demands... it’s easy for students to not make the transition and worry if they are going to be bullied.”
Part of drop-out prevention is a successful transition between middle and high school.
Once students enter the GEAR UP program in 7th grade, they continue throughout middle and high school until they graduate.
Funk said a large number of students from Grayson’s first GEAR UP class went off to college. Some graduated already with an associates degree and others are working towards their bachelors degrees.
The program also offers assistance through a scholarship opportunity for lower-income families that can be renewed for up to four years.
Funk said that, during the week of camp at Grayson, students were prepared academically and socially for what they will experience in high school through different peer relationships.
The camp was a collaborative effort of Grayson County Public Schools, Grayson County High School, Mount Rogers Combined School, Wytheville Community College — including the Manufacturing Technology Center located at WCC — Virginia Cooperative Extension and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
The team that worked the transition camp included Casey Carico-Murphy, Tera Casey, Jim Baxley, Katie Thornton and Mary Anne Gillock.
Funk noted that the team consisted of GEAR UP representatives that are from the local schools and would be working with the students throughout their high school years. “It helps them to already know them,” she said.
The camp was funded by a grant from the State Council of Higher Education and in-kind contributions from the program partners.
Student members of GEAR UP signed a pledge to:
• graduate from a Virginia high school and apply for admission to at least two Virginia colleges or universities;
• attend school regularly, maintaining an attendance rate of 95 percent or better;
• provide information needed for evaluating the success of GEAR UP Virginia;
• encourage parents/guardians to actively participate in GEAR UP Va. meetings, workshops and events;
• attend at least one parent/teacher meeting per year, accompanied by at least one parent/guardian
• establish a student account on the Va. Mentor Web site at www.virginiamentor.org.
For more information on the GEAR UP program visit www.gearupva.com.