News release: Mentored students on a path to succeed with West Virginia GEAR UP’s Student Success Society initiative

Kaci FosterProgram updates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia GEAR UP, a federal program managed by the Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission) that serves nearly 500 high school students as they prepare for education or training after graduation, is celebrating National Mentoring Month by spreading the word about the impact of mentorships in West Virginia. Established in GEAR UP-supported schools in 2016, Student Success Society (SSS) groups are helping students build leadership skills, promote student engagement, and prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education by connecting students with a mentor, or “sponsor,” at their school.

Noting the positive influence of mentors on high school students, Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, the Commission’s Interim Chancellor, said, “Young adults who face an opportunity gap, but have a mentor, are 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor. In addition to better school attendance and a better chance of going on to higher education, mentored youth maintain more positive attitudes toward school. These efforts in our GEAR UP high schools are showing incredibly promising results, which we hope to continue building upon.”

For sponsors like Edward Smith at Scott High School in Boone County, this program is helping them reach the state’s broad college attainment goal as outlined in West Virginia’s Climb initiative, which sets a critical target for the West Virginia to arm at least 60 percent of its workforce with an associate degree or higher by 2030.

“The Student Success Society enables us to reach young students at our school and give them a direction educationally and behaviorally. As a sponsor, I want to guide students toward college, university or a trade school. I want students to understand that they have options, while having a support system,” Smith said.

The SSS groups are encouraged to design group projects that inform students across the school community about the college experience. At Sherman High School, for example, they hosted an alumni panel discussion that allowed current college students to share their experiences in navigating college life, while participating Scott High School students shared information about financial aid opportunities and the admissions process with their peers during an after-school project. The groups also work to leave a positive imprint on their communities, just as Wahama High School did through a coat drive in Mason County. Others have helped with school beautification projects, collected donations for local animal shelters and the Ronald McDonald House, and much more.

Sponsors and members spend thousands of hours together. Keith Stewart, the principal of Westside High School in Wyoming County, said, “The Student Success Society has become an integral part of Westside High School’s culture. Students who are part of these groups watch out for each other and look forward to projects where they can help others become better. We are so proud of our SSS groups and their sponsors!”

Every January, National Mentoring Month is celebrated across the country to motivate individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, communities and non-profits to work together in order to increase the number of mentors and assure positive outcomes for young people. The entire month of January is dedicated to highlighting the positive impact of mentors on their mentees’ lives.

“GEAR UP,” which stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” works to help more students pursue their dreams of earning a college diploma or skill-set certificate. GEAR UP provides intensive educational development services to help students plan, apply and pay for education and training beyond high school.

More information about West Virginia GEAR UP and the Student Success Society initiative can be found at