GEAR UP using the college experience to inspire middle school students in Port Arthur

Published 12:38 am Friday, April 28, 2023

A group of Port Arthur middle school students recently had a chance to watch a San Antonio Spurs game.

This special trip allowed students exposure to an NBA experience but also a college fair and community night with the San Antonio Spurs.

The group of students from Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson middle schools are part of a special program Port Arthur Independent School District is taking part in to prepare students for higher education.

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“The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP State Grant, is a seven-year federal initiative designed to increase early college awareness, readiness and success for low-income and historically underrepresented students,” according to information from the Texas Education Agency.

The grant follows a cohort of students from seventh grade through their first year of postsecondary education.

Community event on Saturday

Reset & Reimagine, UT GEAR UP Community Day set for 1-4 p.m., Saturday at the Pavilion, 522 Procter St.

The event is aimed at Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson middle school students and families and features activities, speakers, music and food. Attendants can hear from colleges, multiple career representatives and business and community leaders who will inform the students on requirements for their profession and why they chose their particular career, organizers said.

Entry is free.

Brandilyn Barnes Jacobs is GEAR UP coordinator at Jefferson Middle School, and Nathella Collins is her counterpart at Lincoln.

Collins said Saturday’s event serves as the official GEAR UP kickoff.

The program

Collins explained the grant is in partnership with the University of Texas and allows students to be exposed to careers and colleges they might not otherwise have a chance to visit.

The grant allows the students a chance to see colleges four or five hours away, expose them to different college lives, pushes for financial literacy and pushes them towards a more rigorous curriculum.

Curriculum-wise, there is a push in mathematics.

“This summer we are trying to push students to take Algebra 1,” Collins said.

Students usually take the course by the ninth grade, but experts believe students who take the course in the eighth grade have a higher likelihood of going to college and taking more advanced courses. The goal is to have them in Algebra 2 and beyond to get into major colleges.

Another aspect of the program is parental involvement, which educators believe is an integral part of education.

There is also a counseling portion to the program. This includes class course counseling and counseling for mental health as well.

The two campuses will have their own college and career office, and students can come in and take part in advising sessions for college.

There will also be a private room where the student can log in and speak with a live counselor on MD Live, Collins said, allowing them to speak with a licensed professional. If a parent needs to be part of the counseling sessions, the parent can come with the student and get free counseling.

Tutorials are already available for those who may need a little help. is available 24/7 and is in connection with Princeton Review.

Collins said the grant program is following the group of current sixth and seventh graders who are part of the classes of 2028 and 2029.

“Next year we are hoping to have overnight camps to College Station, UT, where they can experience the whole college life in a two or three day camp,” she said.