Published on July 26, 2017 by Sara Roman  
Gear up 2017

For two weeks in July, more than 30 9th–10th-graders from Birmingham City Schools participated in the Student Reading Achievement and Leadership Program at Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education. Participants explored a variety of stimulating, hands-on educational activities focused on literacy, math, science, technology and leadership concepts. 

The Student Reading Achievement and Leadership Program is a collaborative partnership between GEAR UP Birmingham, Birmingham City middle and high schools, and Orlean Beeson School of Education. This is the third year of the camp and partnership with Orlean Beeson School of Education. Samford education faculty members Tarsha Bluiett and Monique Gardner-Witherspoon serve as codirectors for the program. 

GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The summer academic enrichment program is one piece of a yearlong initiative designed to increase graduation rates and expose students to postsecondary education opportunities. 

In addition to academic enrichment activities, Samford’s GEAR UP participants discussed an array of college decision factors, including university location, size, degree options and financial aspects. 

“The education school is proud to have the opportunity to bring these students to Samford’s beautiful campus, and not only expose them to the college experience we have to offer, but also discuss other higher education opportunities,” said Bluiett, associate professor and director of the M.S.E. program in elementary education. “As a higher education institution that is essentially at their back doors, we want to ensure that we are a part of the establishment of a college-going culture in these schools.” Building this kind of mindset is one of the program’s goals. 

This year, the summer enrichment experience was STEM focused, but students also divulged in a variety of leadership experiences. According to Witherspoon, assistant professor and director of the M.S.E. program in educational leadership, the timing of the camp was very much intentional. 

“Students were able to review and expand their knowledge base while exploring multiple examples of leadership,” said Witherspoon. “We hope the experience has left them setting their sights high and excited to return to school Aug.10.” 

Camp participants learned foundational leadership traits from multiple guest speakers, and took a field trip to Birmingham’s Negro Southern League Museum, the largest African-American sports museum in the United States. While at the museum, students were able to tour the corporate office, Regions Field and locker rooms, as well as discuss the entirety of running a place like Regions Field. 

“Students learned about ticket sales, event planning operations, security, sports medicine and the numerous other positions that are needed in addition to the baseball players,” said Witherspoon. “It is extremely important for kids their age to have these tangible experiences and learn about different job opportunities so they can set goals and determine the right place for them to matriculate post-graduation.” 

While at the museum, students also had the opportunity to meet legendary players Henry Elmore, Charles Harris, Ernest Harris, Mike Tarant and Robert Vickers, who shared their personal experiences and encouraged the group to set goals, stay focused and work hard. 

GEAR UP prepares students for college, and provides the support and resources necessary for success. Nationally, GEAR UP projects have a college-going rate of 62% versus a 51% rate for all students. For 2016–17, Samford’s School of Education was awarded $64,568.50 from GEAR UP Birmingham to continue its work of assisting more Birmingham City School students.

Sara Roman is marketing and communication coordinator for Orlean Beeson School of Education.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.