College used to be out of reach for many Waite graduates. That’s not the case anymore thanks to a federally funded program for high-poverty schools.
The program, GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is administered by Bowling Green State University. It is designed to increase the rate of college attendance from students living in high-poverty school districts by preparing them for college and defraying its high cost.
Sixty-four students were recently awarded scholarships totaling $140,864, or $2,201each. Thirty of the students are 2009 Waite graduates and 34 are current college students who continue to qualify for the renewable scholarship, according to Becky Schardt, GEAR UP coordinator. Those who graduated from Waite in 2006 and are starting their senior year in college have received $6,248 in total. Students coming into the program this year could receive even more.
The scholarships are available to any Waite student regardless of income, providing they fulfill program guidelines. Scholarships renew provided the student reapplies and is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary program and is not on probation.
Dave Yenrick, Waite principal, credits the program with increasing the percentage of Waite graduates who enroll in college from 30 percent in 2004 to nearly 60 percent this year. More are expected to enroll in the coming years if the University of Toledo and Owens Community College continue their free-tuition programs for those who meet financial assistance guidelines. The program went into effect with this year’s graduating class.
Schardt, who has taught 31 years including 10 at Waite, agrees. “There’s definitely increased awareness that there are no longer the factory jobs out there and that they’re not going to find something substantive to do. Students have an increased awareness of the significance of going to some type of post-secondary program,” she said.
Scholarships are only one aspect of the GEAR UP program. Preparation for college starts as early as junior high. When students arrive at Waite they are placed in smaller groups which stay with the same core teachers for English, math, science and social studies. This small school within a big school concept allows teachers to follow a student’s progress and introduce stability in the lives of those students who come from single-parent homes. Students earn points for C grades and better, for good attendance, for bringing their parents to conferences and open houses, for volunteering and for participating in sports or clubs. Earn enough points and the student earns the scholarship renewable for four years.
In addition, counselors are available to help families with filling out financial aid and college admission forms.
Joel Newton is one of the first to go through the program. Neither parent attended college and Joel is the first of his siblings to go. He credits Schardt with helping him stay organized and earning enough points to qualify. He is a senior at Bowling Green State University majoring in construction management.
Tom Duris, a 2009 Waite grad, attends BGSU and is majoring in integrated social studies. He wants to teach. He says the GEAR UP program pushed him to get good grades, participate in sports and volunteer in the community. This involvement helped him secure a full-tuition scholarship for academics. The GEAR UP money allows him to live on campus and gives him a better chance to graduate without any college debt.
Schardt says there is funding for the current freshmen class. Informational sessions for this year’s freshman class are being held Wednesday and Thursday. Call her at 419-691-4687, ext 7403.
There is no better time to be a student at Waite. Between the GEAR UP program and the offer of free tuition from Owens Community College and the University of Toledo those who want to attend college have an opportunity their parents didn’t have.