GREENSBORO — On a hot June afternoon, 24 middle-schoolers from across North Carolina gathered at UNCG to learn how to be leaders.
Their first task? Figuring out how to get a hula hoop from one end of a human chain to the other.
The hula hoop exercise on Wednesday afternoon helped break the ice at the three-day GEAR UP North Carolina camp at UNCG. It’s the first time the university has played host to the camp, a summer experience that also introduces rising eighth-graders to the prospect of going to college.
“We’ll be building an image of them as future leaders and helping them to think whether college will play a part in that,” said Laura Gonzalez, an assistant professor of counselor education in UNCG’s School of Education and one of the camp’s organizers.
“We just kind of root for the underdogs,” she added. “We hope to help others get access to a college education.”
GEAR UP is an acronym for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.” It’s a federally funded program run by the UNC system, and it works with 11 N.C. school systems, including the Alamance-Burlington and Rockingham County districts, that serve large numbers of low-income students.
The program works with students starting in the seventh grade to improve their academic skills and increase their chances of graduating from high school and going to college. GEAR UP NC also helps their parents learn more about applying for college and paying for it.
GEAR UP NC organizers say the program has increased high school graduation and college-going rates at targeted high schools by about 10 percentage points. The program has existed in North Carolina since 2000.
The summer camps — at six UNC schools, including N.C. State and Winston-Salem State — are a key part of this effort.
The UNCG campers came from five counties — as far east as Pamlico and as far west as Yancey. They’ll stay in UNCG dorms and eat in the UNCG cafeteria. They’ll meet college students and college professors. Many campers would be the first in their families to go to college.
Today, the campers will visit the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro. On Friday, each camper will give a short presentation on the lessons they learned at camp.
Gonzalez and two other counselor-education professors are leading the camp along with UNCG’s Office of Leadership and Service Learning. UNCG graduate students are working as camp counselors.
One of the campers, Olivia Johnson, said GEAR UP NC has helped her think about college. At this point she’s thinking about being either a doctor or a lawyer.
“I like to help people, but I like to argue, too,” said Johnson, a rising eighth-grader at Reidsville Middle in Rockingham County.
She picked the UNCG camp because it was close to her home. When it comes time for college, though, she wants to go out of state. Maybe someplace like Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s really expensive, and you have to have a high GPA to go there,” Johnson said. “I hope to succeed at that.”
Photo caption: Jesse Dickinson reaches for an object as she participates in an exercise during the GEAR UP camp at UNCG in Greensboro, N.C., on June 18, 2014.
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By John Newsom firstname.lastname@example.org
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