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The 'Gear Up' program is in full swing for Johnson County students

By Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

The Gear Up grant is a $500,000 that has but one goal- to see that as many Tennessee students as possible choose to continue their educations after high school. Johnson County School District was a recipient of the seven-year grant beginning in the 2012/2013 school year. Gear Up Site Coordinator Stephanie Shores is excited about the various possibilities the grant will provide and she hopes to inspire Johnson County students from grades seven to twelve to get excited about higher education.

‘Gear Up’ stands for- Gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs. In short, Gear Up wants to ensure that every student, regardless of financial circumstance, that wishes to attend college, will be given the tools necessary to succeed. Governor Bill Haslam said of the grant “We are focused in Tennessee on taking the next step in post-secondary education because we have to increase the number of graduates if we’re going to attract high quality jobs to our state. Twenty-three percent of Tennesseans have a degree from a four-year institution, and while college isn’t for everyone, it needs to be for more people than it has been. This grant goes a long way toward assisting students who might otherwise not have access to the support and resources needed to enter and succeed in college, and I look forward to seeing the impact we can have on students starting as early as the seventh grade.”
The grant is a result of the efforts of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Johnson County was one of sixteen counties chosen as a recipient. The grant proposal process for Gear Up was highly competitive and Johnson County was chosen out of dozens of competing school districts.

At the root, Gear Up pledges to provide mentoring, tutoring, college visits, and financial aid counseling. Project Director Mischelle Simcox, Site Coordinator Stephanie Shores, and College Access Program Mentor Brittany Pleasant have planned several events in conjunction with the Gear Up program which kicked off its seventh grade event on January 24, in the Johnson County Middle School gymnasium. At the kickoff event, seventh graders took a pledge to attend college. All parents in attendance are also asked to take a pledge to do whatever they can to help their child obtain their goal of higher education. The students were given information about Gear Up and about what the program intends to provide to Johnson County students. A young racecar driver by the name of John King attended the seventh grade event. King won first place in the NextEra Energy Resources 250, which took place at Daytona International Speedway. Kings message to the eager students was through hard work and dedication any dream can be achieved. The high school event, which took place on Tuesday, February 12 in the Johnson County High School library, provided much of the same information as the middle school event. Each attendee was entered for a chance to win a door prize which were provided by several colleges and an informational slideshow presentation was shown.

The Gear Up program stresses that it is made available to every type of student. Whether a student plans to further their education through a trade school, university, or community college, Gear Up is available to help. The program very much caters to individuals by placing no emphasis upon the type of secondary education a student should obtain but rather tailoring the program to fit the desires of the individual. Scholarships are offered directly through the program, but more than that, Gear Up coordinators are ready and willing to help students seek out other scholarships they might be qualified for. At the Johnson County High School event, Principal Lisa Arnold informed students that Site Coordinator Stephanie Shores is available to assist students in every aspect of beginning college life.
Arnold went on to share a story about a former JCHS student that found his first days of college to be so daunting that he considered leaving. Instead, members of the JCHS staff did everything they could to ensure that his enrollment process was a steady one. They even went as far as to travel to his chosen college and assist him with all of the required enrollment processes. Currently the aforementioned student is in his sophomore year of college with no intention of leaving.

This year’s theme for the JCMS/JCHS Gear Up program is “Ready, Set, Longhorns can go!” The theme pays homage to the belief that every student is capable of going to college. The keyword for the program is ‘Track’ which is an acronym for ‘the road to accessing college is key.’ The word focuses on the thought that though each students ‘track’ may be different, there are similarities in the need for a secondary education in today’s job market.

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