College is years away for Appling Middle School’s seventh- and eighth-graders, but the students already are showing enthusiasm for higher education, thanks in part to a federal grant that will help them get there.
School officials, as well as representatives from the city of Macon and Bibb County, marked National GEAR UP Week on Monday with an assembly at the school. Bibb County is in the second year of a seven-year federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, grant. Bibb County is receiving about $20 million aimed at getting more students to college, said Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, deputy superintendent of school improvement and redesign.
“We are putting things in place that make sure kids actually get a quality education and are able to have opportunities they want in the future,” she said. “There’s nothing better than that.”
Because of the grant, students are receiving extra math help, for example, as well as building study and note-taking skills and visiting college campuses. The grant serves 3,600 middle school students in Bibb County.
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The district has partnered with Bank of America, the Boys and Girls Club, Communities in Schools, Highpoint Learning, Macon State College, the Mentors Project, Mercer University and the Museum of Aviation Foundation for the grant.
Appling Middle School Principal Steven Jones said he has seen changes in students in recent weeks.
“The walls are talking,” he told the students at the assembly. “You have a different persona about yourself. You are motivated. Your minds have changed.”
Appling student Tyanna Mason, who plans to attend Fort Valley State University one day, said college will bring her opportunities.
“I do plan on going to college so I can make something of my life,” she said.
Superintendent Romain Dallemand told students they were getting an early start getting ready for college compared to when he was in school.
“The things that you’re learning at your age are things that I did not learn about colleges when I was in high school,” Dallemand said.
Dallemand said because he grew up as the oldest of nine siblings in New York, he could relate to the students. However, students’ backgrounds do not determine their success, he said.
“Your success is all about decisions that you make each and every day,” he told them.
Each class of students represented a college or university at the assembly. Students cheered loudly for the University of Georgia, Howard University, the University of Tennessee, Tuskegee University and Georgia Tech.
School officials, however, emphasized to students that college is important for them, no matter where they attend.
While Appling’s sixth-graders won’t be part of the GEAR UP program, Jones said those students are learning by watching their peers. He called their enthusiasm for college “inspirational.”
“It’s inspirational and in education. That’s what we need,” Jones said. “When you see the look in the students’ eyes, that gives the teachers, the administrators, parents and the community another step to say, ‘Let’s go forth, because these kids are really, really excited about going to college.’ ”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.