Kids 'Gear Up' For College

Posted: August 12, 1999

When she grows up, 12-year-old Lisa Womack wants to be a landscaper, hospital worker or telephone operator.

College might help her expand her dreams.

With the help of a new grant program, Lisa and many other city students will get extra help toward their education.

"This is not a sprint. This is a long-distance run," said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., of Philadelphia, at a press conference yesterday introducing his "Gear Up" grant program.

The program works with low-income students, beginning no later than seventh grade.

Beginning in September and continuing over five years, six School District clusters will receive $28 million as part of "Gear Up." The program will prepare students from low-income families for college through mentoring and other programs.

The students will receive a "21st Century Scholar Certificate" that will designate them for financial aid when they go to college.

Area colleges will be paired with middle schools in the six clusters to provide mentoring, Fattah said. The clusters that will receive the grant are Kensington, Edison, University City, West Philadelphia, Ben Franklin, Overbrook and William Penn.

The bill, signed last October, will provide services for more than 17,000 Philadelphia students.

"The wonderful part of this legislation is that it requires partnerships," said Mary Jane Clancy, executive director of Education for Employment at the School District of Philadelphia. "It allows our children to have a future that is very bright and promising."

"We are trying to motivate you to want to go to college," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told a group of students at Sayre Middle School in West Philadelphia, where the announcement was made. "You have to work hard, but it's worth it."

Some, however, feel unfairly left out of the program.

Barbara Johnson, an English teacher at Lincoln High School, said her school could use the funds.

"Lincoln is 50 percent minority," Johnson said. "When they talk in terms of needy students . . .they're the kids that fall through the cracks."

The schools will receive about $3 million the first year of the grant. The School District will provide an additional $4.2 million that it received from federal and non-federal sources, according to district official Diane Castelbuono.

Send e-mail to woodars@phillynews.com

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