The GEAR UP program in South Dakota is now operating from Black Hills State University. The education effort aims to prepare Native American students for college. Most recently GEAR UP is tied to accusations of wrongdoing as former leaders face criminal charges. Despite the challenges, the program is under new leadership and moving forward.
Incoming high school students from schools participating in GEAR UP are eligible to apply for a three-week program promoting college readiness and culture.
Longtime educator June Apaza is co-director of GEAR UP South Dakota at BHSU. She says students in the program begin with a focus on academics and college prep in mid-June. Apaza says they leave campus for the last week to explore topics including a focus on sacred places and botany related to Native American medicinal knowledge.
"The vast majority of students that we will serve are going to be American Indian, and so we want to develop pride in that heritages and help them understand how that culture can be a huge advantage to them as they move forward – sort of embracing where you come from and using that culture and experiences to be the best person you can be," Apaza says.
Apaza says the summer program is the first positive, intensive contact Gear Up leaders have with students. She says that extends into the school year.
"Each of the students who are in these schools will have a school-based coordinator and a regional coordinator who will be touching base with them, offering them extra support, during the school year so that they can be successful in their K12 education so that when it’s time to move on to a new experience, an undergraduate experience, they have the preparation that they need to be successful," Apaza says.
Apaza calls this a fresh start for GEAR UP South Dakota, because this is the first year the program is administered at Black Hills State University.
Interested students can find the summer application online at this link.
Gear Up leaders are working now to establish up to six locations for middle school workshops. That way 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students can participate in the program but won’t have to be away from home this summer.