UTC College Prep Program Completes First Virtual Week

By Bri Carr, Staff Writer-

“Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs” or GEAR UP, is an after-school program designed to encourage middle and high school students at six inner-city schools get on track for college.

With 161 projects throughout 45 states, GEAR UP serves over half-a-million students.

The school provides resources for students to understand that college is an option for them, as they learn how to pay for and succeed in college.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, GEAR UP started their transition into an online format for the first time, to continue their goal of getting more students involved.

From being an in-person based program that relied heavily on face-to-face communication to an all online program, the sudden change was a tough one, as Gear Up Director, Dr. Hunter Huckabay had to say.

“…it’s a very boots-on-the-ground approach! We like to get people in the schools, interacting with the students, that’s why we use a lot of UTC’s employees and students.”

He explained that during the after-school programs, their students are encouraged to go on college campuses and interact with college students such as at UTC.

Unfortunately, because of the changing circumstances, the program changed its approach to teaching, to provide a safer environment with students’ and the staff’s health in mind.  

According to Huckabay, he was unsure in regards as to how the program would flourish like it did before, but is satisfied with the outcome this first time around of moving everything to an online format in the midst of a pandemic.

“Naturally, we would prefer to be in an in-person environment…but given all of that I’m happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.

Not only have the GEAR UP leaders learned how to use this new virtual way of working, but so have the tutors who help these students after school.

Sophomore and GEAR UP tutor, Aubrey-Anne Ross, gave insight to how the program’s new structure has affected her.

“The biggest difference I feel like…last year, what they would do, is the kids would stay after-school, and they [tutors] would be at the school, and when it was done they would give them rides home, so…more kids were coming…and it was easier to draw them I feel like.”

Ross also explained that the program’s leaders taught the staff different techniques and virtual ways to help students still succeed while tutoring them in a new and unique way.

According to Ross, although most of their training was virtual, she still navigated through the virtual teaching platform effectively, as she prepared for the first week.  

With continual efforts, the after-school program completed its first week online and is hoping for a better future despite COVID-19.

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