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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

St. Joe’s GEAR UP Program

Jamie Wessels instructs GEAR UP participants. PHOTOS: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Promoting college readiness in underrepresented youth

Five St. Joe’s student volunteers began a week-long orientation program in early February at Overbrook High School to begin training for SJU GEAR UP, a federally funded high school program that prepares students for college.

The program, Gaining Early Access Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), is intended to increase the number of students designated as low-income, according to Maura Southwell, SJU GEAR UP Program coordinator and project coordinator for science outreach in the department of biology at St. Joe’s.

“The mission of GEAR UP is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by foster- ing educational excellence and ensuring equal access,” Southwell said.

The SJU GEAR UP program is funded by a seven-year grant awarded by the U.S. Department for Education. The GEAR UP legislation was introduced by a Philadelphia Congressman in 2014. The School District of Philadelphia and its partner organization, Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), collaborate with schools, colleges and com- munity groups to provide GEAR UP services to students in 12 Philadelphia schools.

“The nice thing about this grant is that it does give us a lot of flexibility to address the individual needs of both the high schools and universities we are working with,” Southwell said.

The St. Joe’s students volunteer at Overbrook High School once a week based on availability and subject interest, spend- ing time with students in classes including biology, English, math, Spanish and special education. The relationship-building between St. Joe’s students and Overbrook stu- dents forms through one-on-one coaching, small group stations or group coaching.

Southwell said her hope is that the academic-based interactions will encourage the formation of peer relationships between the St. Joe’s students and Overbrook High School students.

Jamie Wessels, an algebra teacher at Overbrook High School, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who majored in engineering and worked in the engineering field for five years. Wessels said she realized engineering was not her passion in life, so she decided to become a teacher because it would allow her to make an impact on students.

“The best thing about being a teacher is seeing your students grow from the previous year,” Wessels said.

The GEAR UP program also provides educational support outside the classroom. “One of the extensions of the partnerships that we have built is called advanced college visits, where we bring Overbrook students to the Saint Joseph’s University campus,” Southwell said.

The Overbrook students tour the campus, attend subject specific labs such as biology and have lunch in the Campion Student Center.

“We also organize shorter events, where they may meet with a specific department that a student group has organized,” Southwell said.

The GEAR UP initiative was part of the biology department at St. Joe’s, and according to Southwell, it has now shifted to Campus Ministry and its Weekly Service Program.

Southwell said St. Joe’s students also benefit from volunteering with GEAR UP.

“The most fulfilling aspect of the program is being a second hand for the teacher,” said Allison Kuvik ’20, a volunteer. “Being from Northeast Philadelphia, I feel like I am making a direct impact on my own community.”

St. Joe’s students who are interested in joining GEAR UP as volunteers may apply through Campus Ministry.

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