PULLMAN, Wash. — More than 1,000 seventh graders from communities across south central Washington will spend a day on the Washington State University campus Tuesday (May 25) as part of a program intended to help school districts serving low-income students demonstrate that a college education is an achievable ambition.
Along with more than 40 chaperones, the 1,045 middle school students – from College Place, Prescott, Touchet, Walla Walla, Moses Lake, Soap Lake and Warden – will spend most of the day touring the WSU campus and learning about the variety of academic programs offered at the university.
The event is part of WSU Harvest of Hope GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) – an effort to prepare economically disadvantaged middle school students for admission to a college or university after high school. Designed to encourage and assist students to prepare for college beginning in the sixth grade, the program is open to all students at partner schools and encourages every student to plan for a college education. The GEAR UP Project was funded in August 2002 by the U. S. Department of Education; funding is for five years at a funding level of $7.68 million.
Currently, more than 3,000 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students in the seven school districts are involved in the program through a coordinated effort that partners local youth service providers such as Broetje Orchards, Boys and Girls Club of Columbia Basin and the Walla Walla YMCA. Coordinating efforts for this campus trip has been the responsibility of the Northwest Learning and Achievement Group, another partner in the GEAR UP Program.
Genoveva Morales Ledesma, director of the GEAR UP program at WSU Tri-Cities, said Tuesday’s visit to the Pullman campus will be a first for the newly funded program and is intended to provide students with a personal experience that will connect them with the university environment.
“The motto for the GEAR UP Programs is ‘college is a plan, not a dream,’” Ledesma said. “This is where we hope many of our students will begin to make a connection with WSU that will lead them to start planning for a college education.”
The WSU campus visit has been preceded by a variety of preparatory activities in each participating school district. The middle school students have “done their homework” in learning about WSU academic programs and have taken a preliminary look at the cost of earning a college degree, Ledesma said, adding that the students will follow up on the event by completing essay writing assignments.
In addition to helping acquaint middle school students with the WSU campus, GEAR UP staff members assist students in obtaining tutoring, developing study skills, setting goals, and setting up job-shadowing opportunities. The program also supports programs for parents, professional development for teachers and scholarship planning assistance for students.
Alton Jamison, WSU associate vice president for educational development, and Yolanda Flores Niemann, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of comparative American cultures and director of Hispanic Outreach, are also responsible for the GEAR UP Program. The pair helped obtain funding for the Student Support Services program on the Pullman campus and spearheaded successful grant-writing efforts for the Upward Bound Program, which now raises $2.8 million per year in additional funds to encourage first-generation and low-income students to stay in school, graduate and continue on to postsecondary education.
With GEAR UP, Student Support Services, Upward Bound and Latino/a Outreach, and other previously existing programs in Pullman and at the urban campuses, Niemann said WSU is now reaching out to recruit and retain students with more comprehensive, strategic approaches than ever before.
WSU Upward Bound projects include WSU staff members who work with local high school teachers to offer after-school and occasional Saturday educational activities. Areas of emphasis include English and literature, math, laboratory sciences, social sciences and foreign language.