FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington has found an innovative new way to help high school students earn Early College credit while being inspired to strive to their full potential. UMF’s GEAR UP and Early College programs partnered this summer to help Maine students overcome barriers and strive beyond high school.

UMF offers a residential Gear Up summer program for high school students, from rising sophomores to seniors. Students from all over the state can live in the residence halls on the UMF campus for an extended 11-day residential college experience. Gear Up covers the cost of transportation, activities, room and board, and this year, partnered with the UMF Early College program through its director Clarissa Thompson, to cover the cost of courses taken by the students.

“UMF is very proud of its role as the principal partner and fiscal agent of the Maine Gear Up program and how it enables high school students to strive higher,” said Edward Serna, UMF president. “Our Early College program is a natural extension of that, giving students a stimulating environment where they can earn college credit and see themselves being successful.”

This new collaboration not only helps demystify the college experience for students, but also provides them with a valuable and tangible result in the form of college credits. Course work was taught by UMF biology and creative writing faculty members Gretchen Legler, Rachel Hovel and Doni Schwalm.

This year’s summer program offered students the opportunity to take a cross-listed course that would earn them two credits in either biology or English, in addition to the regular activities. Two graduating seniors from Mount Abram High School, Silas Hayden and Ashley LaGross, participated in this year’s  summer program, earning two credits each in college biology.

“We’ve both attended the Gear Up Summer program before, but this was something special,” said LaGross. “We did many of our biology labs on-site at the Sandy River or on an outdoor hike. It was a great way to earn college credit.”

“I loved the chance to get comfortable with campus life,” said Hayden. “I learned a lot, and it really helped me be prepared to be a college student. Both LaGross and Hayden are currently enrolled at UMF.

Student studies revolved around the scientific and creative aspects of hiking to Flagstaff Hut, canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding with Mainely Outdoors, or exploring Grafton Notch. They also participated in a workshop on digital story telling by picture book author and FableVision co-founder Paul Reynolds.

“Gear Up is a wonderful program that gets to the heart of helping students transition from high school to  higher education,” said Kathryn Will-Dubyak, UMF faculty member and co-director of the summer GEAR UP program. “It creates a cohort of students that the program follows from seventh grade to their first year of post-secondary education, ensuring students receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed.”

More information on the UMF Gear Up program

As the principal partner and fiscal agent of the Maine Gear Up program, UMF works to increase the number of students who graduate high school and enroll and succeed in postsecondary education. It received a $20 million, seven-year Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) state grant by the U.S. Department of Education in 2014. Syntiro, a Maine-based non-profit, helps administer and manage the grant.

This discretionary grant program provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

The Maine grant is projected to serve up to 7,600 students annually from 63 high-poverty, rural schools in 26 districts. In addition, 19 external partners representing a wide spectrum of educational and business organizations are working in support of the grant’s goals.

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