GEAR UP initiative ultra success

Through a computer screen (for now), SUNY Potsdam student-athlete Josh Huiatt, left, is mentoring North Country public school students on college options, career paths and the rigors of pursuing college athletics. Photo SUNY Potsdam Athletics

MALONE — While there may not be a great deal of area colleges in northern Franklin County, further education still has a large impact for Malone Middle School students.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a program in which 86 student-athletes from SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Plattsburgh and Middlebury College help students in grades six through nine explore the possibilities of going to college.

A couple times a month, collegiate athletes meet with small groups of students during lunch or other free periods for 20 to 30 minutes.

GEAR UP, now in its second year of a five-year initiative, has experienced turbulence with schools going remote amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Collegiate athletes instead are continuing to be involved by means of mentoring students virtually.

“Like for other schools, COVID-19 has disrupted student life at Malone,” Malone GEAR UP Fellow Michael Lavoie said. “The programs that I have brought in for the students with the help of the entire GEAR UP staff has helped improve the students’ mental health by giving them exposure to people and ideas virtually.”

College For Every Student (CFES) Brilliant Pathways, based in Essex, N.Y., spearheads the federal GEAR UP initiative.

Lavoie, who specifically works with the eighth and ninth graders, described the three core beliefs that drive the program.

“Mentoring, college and career readiness, and essential skills, and we infuse these practices in everything we do at CFES GEAR UP,” he said.

During a regular school year, collegiate athlete mentors would travel to Malone to meet students in person, where Lavoie would provide activities and other supportive materials.

“The students have been really excited about all of the programs that I have been coordinating in Malone, and the student-athletes have really touched the lives of these young students,” Lavoie said.

A competitive federal program, GEAR UP provides multi-year grants to education, community partnerships and states. CFES Brilliant Pathways received its first installment of the multi-year $11.6 million U.S. Department of Education grant in October 2018.

Malone Middle School is just one of seven schools throughout the Adirondack region to receive student mentorship through GEAR UP.

“This is a great way to do mentoring, whether we have a pandemic or not; it allows flexibility for student athletes,” CFES Program Director Chris Mazzella stated in a press release from SUNY Potsdam. “The students in GEAR UP have a wonderful opportunity for positive engagements with college students to discuss potential career pathways and academic encouragement.”

Collegiate athletes offer their personal experiences, as well as general advice, to Malone Middle School students in order to help prepare them for furthering their education and life beyond school.

“The student-athlete mentors represent various majors at SUNY Potsdam, SUNY

Plattsburgh, and Middlebury College, so the mentees at Malone are exposed to these majors and different types of jobs they can get after college,” Lavoie said.

According to Mazzella, virtual mentoring may still be favorable to some collegiate athletes when in-person mentorships continue in the future.

“This is a great way to do mentoring, whether we have a pandemic or not; it allows flexibility for student athletes,” Mazzella stated. “The students in GEAR UP have a wonderful opportunity for positive engagements with college students to discuss potential career pathways and academic encouragement.”

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