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This North Laurel High School senior is one of several committing to Morehead State University this fall.

It may be the last year for the current GEAR UP Kentucky grant that has benefited local middle and high school students, but those last days brought a celebration for graduating seniors.

Both North and South Laurel seniors who have made commitments to continuing education or military duty were treated to a special program earlier this month that celebrated their success.

The South Laurel High program was held on Tuesday, May 1 and honored approximately 150 students who pledged to attend college or serve their country in the military.

The numbers at neighboring North Laurel High School was in the same proximity, with over 60 students committing to attend Somerset Community College. Their celebration was held on Thursday, May. 3.

Students who had committed to different colleges were called to the stage in each school’s auditorium to be recognized, with representatives from several of those colleges present to welcome the students and present them with a gift bag and information packets.

After the ceremony, students intermingled during a reception. The culmination of the GEAR UP Kentucky program was headed by Monica Smith and Molly Hibbard and assisted by retired educators Rhonda Welch and Donna Vandy.

The GEAR UP program was a six-year grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and its acronym meaning Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Students entering the seventh grade at a GEAR UP school between 2011 and 2013 are considered GEAR UP Kentucky students. Both North and South Laurel middle and high schools were GEAR UP schools. There were 29 GEAR UP schools across the state, according to the GEAR UP website.

This program shows a significant impact upon the lives of students enrolled in schools with GEAR UP activities. A report from the 2015-2016 year shows a 31 percent increase in college and career preparedness, with students saying they better understand college options and preparation.

Four of five students reportedly improved in at least one grade subject between the eighth and ninth grade, with a 3 point increase in their grade point average. College seemed more affordable for many students who took a financial literacy curriculum, with more understanding of the financial aid choices while 1,580 students went on at least one college campus visit. The stats listed on the GEAR UP webpage indicates that 93 percent of students now expect to continue their education due to the focus of the GEAR UP program curriculum.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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