CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nearly 1,300 eighth grade students from 32 West Virginia schools were in Charleston Wednesday morning to participate in the state’s GEAR UP program at the Clay Center.gear up 2

The program teaches students, from pre-school to high school, how to take control of their futures by informing them about the steps needed to pursue higher education.

“What that really is is to help other students be peer mentors, to spread the word about going to college, getting a career in mind early in their life and being prepared for college when they do go,” explained Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of state Higher Education Policy Commission before giving his opening remarks at the event.

This week is also “College Application and Exploration Week,” coordinated by the College Foundation of West Virginia.

“We encourage students from all over the state to work with our teams of individuals who go out and work with our schools to fill out the FASFA form, the federal application for student financial aid, to help them also get their applications in to college early,” said Hill.

Hill cited economic studies in West Virginia that said more than 50 percent of all the jobs in West Virginia will require some training and post secondary education after high school. Gear Up alumni leader Kendyl Ryan, a sophomore at Marshall University, said that is one of the reasons why she decided to go to college.

“Post secondary education is one of the most important things that you can get, especially in West Virginia now because so many blue collar jobs are going under such as coal mining,” said Ryan. “Having a college education is almost required now to be able to get any kind of career.”

Ryan is originally from Boone County and attended Madison Middle School where she participated in the program that she said “opened doors” for her.

“Not only did I learn leadership,” she said. “But it teaches college access. It taught me how to fill out the FASFA. Ii taught me how to find different kinds of scholarships.”

Wednesday’s event also included college mascots from across West Virginia. The mascots presented dance routines incorporating college information during a “Mascot Mania” dance-off contest.

West Virginia GEAR UP serves students in ten counties including Boone, Fayette, Mason, Mercer, Nicholas, Summers, Webster, Wirt and Wyoming counties.

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