GEARS helps kids make the gradeAfter a snack of muffins and juice April 7, Gabriel Walker tackled pi — the math kind.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
After a snack of muffins and juice April 7, Gabriel Walker tackled pi — the math kind.
“Right now I’d rather be doing anything, anything,” the seventh-grader said. “I’d rather be doing health than math.”
Luckily, the Superior Middle School student had a classmate willing to help out.
“Math is my favorite subject,” said Zach Mallo. “It helps me calm down.”
University of Wisconsin-Superior freshman Jessica Boe joined their search for the volume of various cylinders, pointing them toward possible formulas.
In another corner of the room, seventh grader Makayla Orrey and UWS sophomore Bailey Lane were also concentrating on math.
“It’s kind of confusing, and also not,” Makayla said.
Lane said she was there to offer guidance and make sure the seventh grader was using her cell phone’s calculator instead of texting. As they worked their way through problems, they shared an occasional laugh.
Meanwhile, seventh graders Tanysha Dempsey and Amber Rutheford visited quietly while identifying the countries of Asia.
As participants of UW-Superior’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness in Superior, or GEARS, program, the middle school students and their college mentors spend two hours together every Tuesday and Thursday after school. They focus on homework and, when the bookwork is done, play team-building games or walk together outside.
“It helps us raise our grades,” Zach said. “The mentors don’t give us the answers; they’re here to help us, that’s what I like.”
“They’ll sit down with you one-on-one,” Gabriel said, and work through homework at the student’s pace.
“Another thing we do is have kids help each other,” Boe said.
“Like a family,” Zach said.
And any completed homework can get handed right in to a teacher, instead of getting lost in a locker.
Making a difference
The goal of the GEARS program, which started during the 2009-10 school year, is to help young students succeed in middle school, attend and graduate from high school and consider higher education options. The university-middle school partnership is already showing positive results.
“I know it’s had an impact on student grades,” said SMS Principal Rick Flaherty. “It’s had an impact on student attendance.” The percentage of GEARS students with grades that are Cs and higher, he said, has increased since it began.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Flaherty said.
The mentors provide one-on-one attention and are great role models, said Donna Martin, a sixth grade science teacher who hosts one of the GEARS groups in her classroom.
“These people are wonderful,” she said.
For 12-year-old Dakota O’Mary, the homework help isn’t the best part of the program.
“We play games and take awesome field trips,” he said. The mentors, students and their families get together twice a month to enjoy weekend activities like a hockey game or play on the UWS campus. They recently spent an afternoon at the World of Wheels. Dakota smiled, saying he didn’t fall down once. He looked up at his mentor, UWS freshman Morgan Wallner.
“She, on the other hand …” he said.
“I fell like two times,” Wallner said.
“But she did win the dice game,” Dakota admitted.
GEARS doesn’t just help break down educational barriers for middle school students; it gives UWS students a taste of service-learning. It gets them out of their college bubble and helps them see what’s going on in the community, said Julie Schmidt, GEARS program specialist. Along the way, they build their communications skills, get a refresher course on math and social studies, and make connections.
Wallner, an elementary education major, appreciated the hands-on learning opportunity of GEARS.
“I love just being here and helping kids, seeing how they grow,” she said. “Being in the program has shown me teaching is what I really, really want to do.”
UWS student mentors are paid for their time and can earn three credits through the program, which includes a course on child development and educational risk factors. GEARS started with 22 sixth graders and 13 UWS mentors. Currently, 31 mentors provide tutoring help for 60 SMS students in sixth and seventh grades. Schmidt said the overall aim of the program is to grow a grade a year, eventually providing support for students from sixth grade until they graduate from high school.
Costs for the program —$75,000 for the first year, $100,000 for the second — have been funded through state grants so far. If GEARS is to continue and grow, Schmidt said, funding is critical. She has pursued grant applications, including a recent submission to the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.
The Americorps program worker has even begun considering community fundraisers and seeking support from community organizations like Rotary and Optimists.
For more information on the program, contact Julie Schmidt at (715) 394-8429 or e-mail jschmi17@uwsuper.