GEAR UP Iowa
Each year, the annual GEAR UP Youth Leadership Conference brings together GEAR UP students from around the country in an opportunity to engage with each other, learn from their shared experiences and gain an insight to overcoming the challenges that come with preparing for college. Armed with this knowledge, GEAR UP Youth Leaders return to their schools as an example of how to build a college-going culture, showing classmates how everyone can succeed.
Sioux City High School student Rylie Maliszewski served as one of Iowa’s GEAR UP Youth Leaders. Having returned recently from the conference, she shares her experience and the impact that participating has had on her college and educational outlook.
This past week I attended the GEAR UP Youth Leadership Conference in San Francisco, California. I was able to attend this conference thanks to my GEAR UP advisors and coordinators, my wonderful parents, and my mentor, Ms. Ford. Thanks to their hard work and my own, I met so many wonderful people and learned so many new skills that I will use forever. I am beyond grateful for this experience. I met many life long friends at the conference! Many of whom I have talked to everyday since the conference ended. I am so blessed to have been one of 150 students around the nation at this conference. Now that I am home, I want to reflect and share my amazing experience!
On the morning of July 16, my family and I woke up at 2 a.m. to head to Omaha. It was my first time flying and I was very nervous. Luckily, the flight was very smooth and our flight was about an hour shorter than they thought. The view was amazing and I even spotted a waterfall during the flight.
This conference was different than many others.
About a month before the conference began a Facebook group was created. This gave us a chance to meet and engage with other students around the nation attending. A few weeks after a friend of mine created a messenger group, which allowed us all to be ourselves and not worry about being formal. Soon after I created a Snap Chat group which mainly had students who did not have Facebook on it so myself and a few other student could help spread important news! Later on we decided to do group video chats about once a week leading up to the conference. This first chat had about six to seven and our last chat had about 10 to 12.
These video chats allowed us to put names to faces which I believed was really cool and, thanks to the Facebook and SnapChat groups, we all recognized each other as the conference began. It was absolutely amazing how close a lot of us were already without actually meeting in person. I even saw a few people before the conference even began.
The first night we did a lot of icebreakers. The following morning at breakfast we had an amazing plenary speaker, Hill Harper, who starred on “CSI: New York,” one of my favorite shows. He talked a lot about the importance of school systems, districts, officials and more, to listen to what the students need from the students and not from outside sources. His speech was truly amazing and very relatable. Monday we worked a lot on making a match between values and behaviors. We also worked on the importance of storytelling and learned the steps in telling a great story. We even had a singing battle.
Tuesday came with a lot of fun. We learned about the importance of living “about the line” and also worked on creating our large presentation for the last breakfast plenary. I helped others make their story as best as it could be. Many worked on a skit and the “Show Me What You Got” box. At the end of the night we did a really amazing and touching activity involving our biggest fears and struggles in life and vowing to not let “them” bother us and get to us anymore. It was cool “breaking” my fear/struggle and watching others do the same.
Wednesday was a very sad day for many of us. I had made so many amazing friends from the social media groups and beyond. Our presentation was truly mesmerizing and I was so glad to be a part of it. All of us were so supportive of one another.
After our group presentation, we wrapped things up and said goodbye. During our goodbye and thank you to everyone, I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the room. Every day at this conference felt like a party, we had so many dance parties and battles. I truly am grateful for this experience and the opportunity to meet amazing lifelong friends I miss them all dearly and really hope we will be able to do a reunion soon. I can’t wait to see how my fellow attendees and I use the skills we learned and how our futures end up.
Thank you GEAR UP Iowa for this amazing experience, one that I will never forget. Thank you for allowing my Mom to go with me as well. Thanks to this conference, I am Future Proof! #GEARUPWorks #GUCon
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Starting high school can seem like the beginning of a whole new world and, certainly, one where college seems far away. But the truth is that in four short years, today’s freshmen will be the graduating Class of 2020.
We’ve already talked about ways that students can start thinking about college by taking college visits or researching scholarships early. Once the school year starts, though, it becomes important to think for the future, but also take the steps necessary to succeed in this new transition to high school. Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” guide not only offers tips and information for students preparing to start their final year of high school, but also gives advice for those students just starting high school.
Here are some tips from “Your Course to College’s” Student Checklist for freshmen looking to succeed this year, while still planning for future success.
- Meet your counselor. He or she is there to help you succeed in high school and to help set you up for success after graduation! Set up a meeting to talk about your plans for high school and the future.
- Get involved. Many admissions officers look for well- rounded students who participate in school activities and are involved in their communities throughout all years of high school.
- Set up a college savings account, if you don’t already have one, or continue to add to an existing account. College Savings Iowa is sponsored by the State of Iowa and can be started with as little as $25. Find more information at www.collegesavingsiowa.com.
- Choose the right class schedule. Find out about college entrance requirements for the schools you’re interested in.
- Find out about Advanced Placement (AP) and other honors-level courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses directly, they may provide online access to courses through the Iowa Online Academy.
- Fill your summer with volunteer activities and work opportunities that can give you a better idea of what type of career you would like to pursue.
Check out the full Four-Year Student Checklist here and sign up to receive the 2016-17 edition of “Your Course to College” here. Iowa College Aid’s “Planning for Our Future” (produced in conjunction with Iowa Insurance Division and Treasurer of State’s office) offers more detailed information and advice on financial planning for a student’s education at all ages (even starting in elementary school or earlier). Order a copy here.
Iowa College Aid and programs such as GEAR UP Iowa work to help students prepare for an educational future after high school through college or other forms of study. For teachers such as Tara Brokovich, the impact of education can, and should, last for generations.
Serving as GEAR UP Iowa Coach and Special Education Teacher at Wilson Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Brokovich has organized meetings to help students prepare for the transition to high school, as well as overseen college campus visits to encourage students to have a college-going midset. The work serves her belief that teachers should help students engage beyond the classroom, teaching them more than just what they need to succeed in school and in life, but in the lives of all those they touch.
Brokovich’s words of wisdom serve as an apt conclusion to Teacher Appreciation Week, encompassing the holistic approach to teaching students to be part of the world, not just students:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
The terms “leader” and “people” can easily be replaced with “teacher” and “students.” This quote fuels my passion to give students an education in and outside of the classroom that will pass down through generations. For example, I take my students on field trips which demonstrate the impact of what they are currently learning and how that transfers to the professional world. This year, I took my writing classes to our local TV station to see the importance of writing in media. Through GEAR UP Iowa, I arranged for recipients to experience college life through visits. As the sponsor of Service Club, my students are able to practice volunteerism and realize the significance in the community and for themselves. Finally, as a coach, I am able to teach my student athletes life lessons they will carry forever.