Georgia Impact

Gear Up 4 High School brings eighth-graders to campus

Clarke County eighth-graders pose with Hairy Dawg and Rosa Arroyo Driggers of the UGA Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the inaugural Gear Up 4 High School event. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Prepping middle schoolers early

On April 13, the University of Georgia Office of Undergraduate Admissions welcomed more than 40 Athens-Clarke County eighth-graders and their parents to campus for the inaugural Gear Up 4 High School event.

Designed to educate eighth-graders and their parents on the transition to high school and beyond, Gear Up 4 High School featured separate sessions for students and parents that covered all the important topics, from high school curriculum rigor, to life as a high school student, to financial aid, and more. Parental sessions were made available in both English and Spanish.

Parents and students are often unaware that preparation for high school should start early.

Students play College Jeopardy during their first session of the Gear Up 4 High School event. (Photo by Chad Osbourn)

“One of the highest predictors of high school success for students is a meaningful ninth-grade transition,” said Rosa Arroyo Driggers, associate director of undergraduate admissions at UGA. “From establishing a group of peers to forming a relationship with the counselor to family involvement and support, if a student starts off with a strong foundation, the chances of graduating significantly increase.”

Arroyo Driggers worked with Jonathan Brunson, assistant director of outreach in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, to plan the day’s events and recruit students from across Athens-Clarke County. Brunson, whose background is primarily with middle school engagement, notes the parent inclusion in the program was a welcome addition.

“One thing that’s different with middle schoolers is that you have to have established rapport and trust with these families. Their child is years removed from applying to college so they usually aren’t thinking about it,” he said. “We based the program on feedback from Athens school professionals and parents. Providing services like this to our community is fulfilling our land-grant mission.”

Administrators across the county know that programs like Gear Up 4 High School can often mean the difference between feeling ready for bigger and greater things and not being equipped to handle such a huge transition. Jhamarcus Pharaoh, the counselor at Clarke County Middle School, knows firsthand what a difference supportive programs can make in a student’s life.

“I’m the first in my family to go to college, and now I’m about to have two graduate degrees from the University of Georgia,” said Pharaoh, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UGA and is currently working on his specialist degree. “We’re planting seeds right now, and I get really excited just seeing how much potential these kids have as early as sixth grade. Knowing these resources exist through UGA and other community organizations, it’s just really humbling to help put these kids on a trajectory to success.”

Gear Up 4 High School was funded by a New Approaches to Promote Diversity and Inclusion grant, an initiative that supports the recruitment, retention and success of underrepresented, underserved and first-generation students at UGA.

“The New Approaches to Promote Diversity and Inclusion grants provide an opportunity to further our work to create a welcoming and inclusive campus community for everyone,” said Michelle Cook, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic University Initiatives. “Gear Up 4 High School is a uniquely exciting program as it focuses on middle school students right here in Athens-Clarke County. This program helps populate the pipeline of students who may one day attend the University of Georgia.”