For First-Gen Family, GEAR UP Iowa Offers Support On Road Toward Dream

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GEAR UP Iowa serves over 7,000 Iowa students in 12 partner school districts around the state, offering tools and resources to schools looking to build a “college-going” culture in their classrooms.

But those efforts don’t stop at the school. GEAR UP Iowa engages with students and families directly, through parent and student nights, college campus tours and events like the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit that took place at Grand View University in Des Moines earlier this summer.

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A dream board drawing done by Rylie Maliszewski during the 2016 GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit. Her mother, Jennifer, says they printed and framed the drawing “..so she sees it everyday and it reminds her of her goals and dreams.”

Through the combined work of GEAR UP Iowa and partner schools, the seeds of culture change can be seen growing, as students and families become increasingly aware of the possibilities that education after high school brings. Many students in GEAR UP Iowa are the first generation in their family to attend college. GEAR UP Iowa programs not only support these families in preparing for college, but also provide motivation to overcome challenges that parents didn’t face when they were in high school.

Rylie Maliszewski is a freshman at North High School in Sioux City. Her parents, Jennifer and Bill, finished their education with a high school degree. As Rylie participates in GEAR UP Iowa with an eye toward college after high school, the support provided to her is impacting both her efforts and her family’s vision of her future. To honor the last day of #NationalGEARUPWeek, they share their thoughts on GEAR UP Iowa:

Rylie Maliszewski:

GEAR UP Iowa is helping me prepare for my future. Not only do we get free money for college but they also provide SAT/ACT prep, college visits, and even tutoring and mentoring. All of these features are free to us with having this program! I am so absolutely grateful to be a part of this program! I’m a first-generation college student, with my parent’s highest level of education being a high school diploma. This experience is very new to me and my family. Not having much family to talk to about college experiences, GEAR UP Iowa gives me the opportunity to talk with college students and alumni, and explore colleges.

This summer I was chosen to go the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit in Des Moines. I was so excited when I got accepted because I really enjoy learning how to be a better leader. The Student Summit gave me more than just information on how to be a better leader. My roommates from the Ottumwa and Davenport schools in this program are now some of my very best friends. Every night we would sit in the common area in our suite and talk the whole night. All of us were so sad to leave on the last day but we all still talk today. My favorite activity from the summit was Alan Feirer’s Leadership Workshop; it was very eye-opening to me. Not only did he teach us how to be a leader but he made it enjoyable, too! We did many small group activities and large group discussion about numerous topics. I will truly cherish this workshop and everything I learned at the Summit! I will never forget the people or the great experiences I had!

 

Jennifer and Bill Maliszewski:

GEAR UP Iowa has had a huge impact on our household. My husband and I only have our high school diplomas, so everything to do with college and preparing our freshman daughter for life after high school has been a bit overwhelming. GEAR UP Iowa is there for us whenever we need help going in the right direction.

Knowing that the people of GEAR UP Iowa are always there to help out gives us some peace of mind. They offer so much to help the students reach their goals, like prep classes for ACT and SAT tests, college visits, guidance on applying for financial aid and scholarships and college visits just to name a few. My family will be ever grateful for  and everything they do for the students and their families to make the transition from high school to college a smooth one. They have helped take away a lot of the stress of getting ready for life after high school!

 

 

Learning Leadership Skills and Getting a Leg Up, Thanks to GEAR UP Iowa

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Earlier this year, GEAR UP Iowa held the first GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. The four-day event gave students from GEAR UP Iowa’s 12 partner school districts a chance to meet other students, discuss leadership skills and build the tools that will make them crucial partners in change bringing a college-going culture to their high schools (plus, it was fun!).

Alan Feirer, a leadership trainer and organizational development consultant, spent a day working with students, helping them realize leadership opportunities and arming them with the tools to apply those skills on a day-to-day basis. As we continue our recognition of #NationalGEARUPWeek, Feirer reflects on the importance of GEAR UP and the way that the program allows schools to help students take advantage of their chances to become leaders during high school and beyond in their education and life.

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My mother was a teen mom, and back in 1968, that circumstance forced her into an early marriage to my father, who was a substance abuser. They graduated high school, but college had to wait.

Eventually, both of them got college degrees, and my mom has pursued two (and completed one) advanced degrees! She just retired from her third profession. All three professions involved giving back; she was a substance abuse prevention coordinator, a non-profit director (for Head Start), and a Lutheran pastor.

The biggest lesson for me? Second chances are there for everyone, and they’re important to take. It’s true that my mom could have stayed married to my dad and spent her life working at a grocery store. There’s no shame in that; we need grocery store clerks. But her gifts, combined with her college degrees, opened doors for her to live a fulfilling life that changed (and saved) the lives of others.

GEAR UP Iowa didn’t help my mom; it wasn’t on option for her. But you – you’ve got a headstart, a bonus, a leg up — if you want to make a difference in your life, and in the lives of others, there’s a whole team of people ready to work with you for that.

Wow!

GEAR UP Iowa Helps Cedar Rapids Teacher Open Doors to Student Opportunities

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GEAR UP Iowa couldn’t succeed in helping schools build a college-going culture without the vital role played by GEAR UP Iowa Coordinators at each of the high schools in the 12 partner districts throughout Iowa. As part of #NationalGEARUPWeek, we highlight the work being done to connect students and families with the opportunities possible with continuing education after high school.

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Sarah Bernhard addresses families at a recent GEAR UP Iowa Family Night at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids

Sarah Bernhard brings a long career of educational experience to her role as GEAR UP Iowa Coordinator at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, IA. Key to her passion for the program, she says, is how important it is to help students and families how higher education can help students position themselves for future success in both their career and life. She shares her thoughts on working with GEAR UP Iowa:

Having spent 20 years as a classroom teacher in Alternative Education, I know first hand the obstacles many students face when it comes to college readiness and preparation. So when the occasion came about to become a GEAR UP Iowa Coordinator, I knew this would be the perfect role for me to continue to support students but more importantly, to help break down those barriers and obstacles by creating numerous academic supports and opportunities.  GEAR UP Iowa truly represents the ideal that ALL students deserve the chance to continue their education after graduation. GEAR UP Iowa creates a support system, develops a path of career exploration, bridges the gap between teacher, student, and family communication, but most importantly it creates a culture of success beyond the classroom. I hope that over the next four years I am able to open the doors of opportunities for my 400 students and motivate them to see their dreams and aspirations come into fruition.

For Storm Lake Student, GEAR UP Iowa Sparks Lifelong Changes

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In celebration of National GEAR UP Week, we’re celebrating the students, facilitators and families that make GEAR UP Iowa successful in building college-going cultures in schools, homes and communities. Lessly Ortega is ninth-grade student from Storm Lake, IA.

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Earlier this summer, Ortega was chosen to participate in the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit, which brought together students from all of GEAR UP Iowa’s 12 school districts throughout the state to Grand View University in Des Moines. Students learned interpersonal and leadership skills to not only help them on the road to educational success after high school, but build and grow those skills in their schools. Ortega shares the immediate impact the event had on her:

I wasn’t born into a family where people grew up to go to college. All we have going for us is a simple high school education with work following after that. But ever since I was little I knew I wanted to break that cycle. I’m not a person who likes being average or going with the flow, I aspire to be someone who people will remember for generations to come. I’ve shared this dream with my friends and every one of them told me that was impossible and I should give up before I waste my time. You wouldn’t believe how close I was to giving up. That was until I went to the GEAR UP Iowa Summit, an event that completely changed my life.

When I first heard about GEAR UP Iowa, all I knew was that it meant free money for college, which I was grateful for considering the expensive cost of tuition. But I never would have thought of the lasting impact it would have in my life. The GEAR UP Iowa  Summit has been one of the best experiences of my life. It showed me how GEAR UP Iowa is much more than free money. I was able to learn how to better myself and how to become a better leader both in school and in life. The Summit gave me lifelong information which I put to work the day I got home from it. I went to all the places I could think of for volunteer opportunities. I was able to work at a retirement home, a kids club, and, the best experience of all, a girls camp as a counselor. I’m beyond grateful to GEAR UP Iowa for giving me the confidence and tools I need to be able to go out into my community and to be able to make a difference in myself and my community.

GEAR UP Iowa means hope in the future. I will continue on my path of greatness where ever that shall be. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.

#NationalGEARUPWeek Celebrates Success, Continuing Work of GEAR UP Students

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GEAR UP Iowa is proud to take part in celebrating #NationalGEARUPWeek, recognizing the work done in schools partnering teachers, students and families with GEAR UP facilitators to create a college-going culture in schools not only in Iowa, but across the country.

GEAR UP Iowa’s latest group of students started in 12 partner districts two years ago, following 7th graders, and expanded this year to include 7,000 9th graders at high schools throughout the state.

Students and their families receive a variety of services aimed at preparing them academically, financially and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in college. Upon enrollment in a college, GEAR UP Iowa students will receive a modest scholarship for up to four years.

GEAR UP Iowa Alum and St. Ambrose University student Taylor Hills is featured in a video created by Iowa College Aid and GEAR UP Iowa that shows the impact that these programs have in schools and communities.

Hills graduated with the most recent group of GEAR UP Iowa students from Columbus Junction High school, after GEAR UP Iowa worked with her and the other students in Columbus Junction starting in 7th grade. In the video, she discusses the impact GEAR UP Iowa had on their dedication to completing high school, including being the first to graduate 100% of seniors in Columbus Junction’s history, and the impact that the program continues to have on her life as a college student.

Watch the video!

Stressed Out In College? These Tips Will Help!

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For many students, getting to college is only half the battle. Adjusting to a new world with new freedoms and responsibilities can be just as stressful as the effort it took to get to college in the first place.

The number one cause for dropping out of college during freshman year is mental health and stress-related issues. What makes dealing with these problems that students face when adjusting to college is that many students suffering through stress feel like they have to do it alone. While most colleges offer some type of mental health services clinic and numerous opportunities to talk with other students to find ways through these trying first days, many students feel that theirs is a battle to be fought privately, or else show their struggles as a sign of weakness or unpreparedness.

But the truth is that the best way to deal with the adjustment to college is to have a good game plan and be willing to lean on others who are there to support you. Reaching out and making connections with other students and taking full advantage of student service resources can make a tremendous difference in adjusting to college life.

Here are a few easy tips to help establish a strong groundwork in your freshman year that will support you all the way through graduation.

Create a Routine

Having a focused calendar is just one step in creating a positive routine. Take the time when starting college to establish good habits that balance studying and classwork with extracurricular activities and a social life. There are so many things possible for students to do on a college campus that it can seem overwhelming. But by creating a routine early on, you’ll be able to get the most out of what college life has to offer.

Don’t Get Behind On Deadlines

Perhaps the most difficult adjustment when starting college is having to take personal responsibility for not only your actions, but your studies. Start off on the right foot by making sure that you are aware of the variety of deadline dates that you’ll encounter. From class papers to financial aid filings to scholarship or grant renewals, having a calendar that lays out all of your deadlines will help you stay ahead of the game. Make sure to keep that calendar in a place where you will frequently see it, a constant reminder to stay focused.

Go to Class!

Sure. It seems obvious, but when freshmen are faced with the reality that mom and dad aren’t there to get them out of bed and to school on time, the promise of a cozy bed sounds a lot more promising than walking through the snow from your dorm to class. Remember why you are in college: to get an education and prepare yourself for a career. Your instructors will likely hold your absence against you when it comes time for grades, and they won’t be following up to make sure you received the materials covered in class.

Get to Know Your Professors

College is a new place, but just like in high school your instructors aren’t there to intimidate you, but to help you. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your professors and take a moment to get to know them. This way, you’ll feel more comfortable asking them questions when there are problems in coursework or other aspects of the class. The best time to do this is during an instructor’s office hours, where they are focused on having one-to-one or small group interactions focused on student needs.

Stay Healthy

Just as your mom and dad aren’t there to get you out of bed each day, they aren’t there to tell you when to stay in bed, either. The pace of a college student’s life can get hectic. And even with the best-planned routines, pushing too hard can have a negative effect on your health. Know when to lay low and recover. You don’t get bonus points for showing up to class sick and you’re likely not going to pay close attention anyway. Most schools (and even many dorms) will offer some form student health services to provide you with medical care. Make sure to take advantage of them instead of trying to tough out health problems on your own.

Keep Loan Debt Down With These Spending Tips

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With college costs rising faster than increases on household income, more and more students have student loans to help fund their education. Often they don’t fully understand all of the terms and fail to track the amounts they borrow. One of the best ways you can stay on top of this process and set yourself up for an easier repayment process, is to limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue. Taking out the smallest amount of money possible in loans will pay off in the long run.

Follow these tips to ensure that you limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue while still in school.

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Borrow only the amount you need.

Many borrowers make the mistake of taking out more loans than necessary. To avoid doing this, create a budget to determine how much loan money you will need and avoid using loan money to pay for unnecessary expenses, such as trips to the movie theater or expensive dinners.

Consider a part-time job.

If your academic schedule allows, consider finding a part-time job on campus to help supplement the cost of unexpected expenses. Be sure to check with your financial aid office to see if you qualify for work study, which will give you the opportunity to work on campus.

Consider paying your loan interest while still in school.

If you start making interest payments on your student loans while you are still in college, you will reduce the total amount you’ll have to repay. Interest payments are usually manageable and by paying off interest as you go keep outstanding interest from capitalizing on any of your balances. Allowing interest to capitalize increases your loan balance essentially requiring you to pay interest on the interest that has been accrued!

Apply for scholarships.

Scholarships can pay for portions, and at times all of your education during an academic year, but you must apply! You can find scholarships that specific to your school or department by talking to a representative from your school’s financial aid office or your department chair. In addition, the following sites are just a few places you can search for scholarships.

Choose a school that fits into the family budget.

Review the financial aid packages from the colleges where you applied and consider how much you would need to borrow from each. Keep the end in mind and select a college where your loan debt can be kept as a reasonable level to your future income potential.