By Anita Lyons
“Education beyond high school is important, whether it’s an apprenticeship, an internship, a tech school or college,” Maria Squire said.
Squire is the coordinator of GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, at GVHS. She and her team of Toni Shober as data recorder and Ashley Dyreng as parent liaison work to help students develop a desire for education and create a plan to attain it.
“Each student has to create their own path,” Squire said. “It’s not as easy as ‘a,b,c,d.’ Every student has an incredibly unique path.”
GEAR UP employees’ jobs include getting to know students, helping with homework, keeping parents and students informed about opportunities, teaching classes in learning skills, developing classes that will better prepare students for college, taking students to tour college campuses, finding scholarships and helping students find their own unique paths to advanced learning beyond high school.
Two years ago, under the direction of Lisa Burrell, the GEAR UP room was moved from deep inside the school to across the hall from the cafeteria in the vending machine room.
Squire said Principal Trevor Powell’s parting gift to them, as he retired last year, was to take the vending machines out of the room. Now the GEAR UP room is a cozy retreat where students can sit on comfortable chairs and read or work at one of the tables with a tutor.
GEAR UP is a grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the website, it’s “designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.”
The six-year grants are designed to support students in groups, called “cohorts,” from seventh grade through their senior year. All four grades of students at GVHS now are in a GEAR UP cohort. However, no grants were written or approved for the current class of eighth graders and last year’s seniors, so they were not GEAR UP students.
Still, Squire said, if a student came to them for help, she wouldn’t say no. There are no specific students chosen to receive the help. The entire class is covered in the grant. This year at the high school, “every student is a GEAR UP student,” Squire explained.
Squire said colleges apply for the grants, and school districts apply to the colleges for permission to access the funding. Once accepted, the funding goes through the school districts. The current GEAR UP cohorts at GVHS are through Utah State University.
Squire is a “district” employee paid through the grant funding. Every use of the funding has to be recorded, which is Leslie Taysom’s job, and Toni Shober monitors and reports student participation. The parent liaison Ashley Dyreng keeps busy helping seniors and their parents find a college and get the funding they need to go there.
The grant funds courses, such as Lars Johnson’s material science, Richard Peterson’s green car engineering class and Evan Westenskow’s coding class.
GEAR UP teachers and regular teacher work together to design classes students might be interested in. The classes have to be approved through the grand coordinator at the head college.
Squire encourages students to enroll in “rigorous” classes to help prepare them for college. She is in charge of finding peer tutors to help struggling students do their homework.
GEAR UP is a help to teachers, who can also ask for tutoring help with students who are struggling with a class assignment. Squire said she recently helped a student write an essay.
Students are welcome at the GEAR UP room anytime and are in and out of it all day long.