Students from Bootheel Learn Life Lessons During Gear-Up Summer Academy at Southeast



June 24, 2005 – The “Game of Life” seems more like real life for 20 students from Charleston, Caruthersville and North Pemiscot high schools currently visiting the Southeast Missouri State University campus.

The students, who are high school sophomores and juniors from the Missouri Bootheel, are participating in the Bootheel Partnership GEAR-UP’s (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) two-week summer academy.

The “Game of Life” theme for the academy will stimulate career awareness and clarify the process of progression from education to career, according to Vida Mays, project director of GEAR-UP. Students will also realize the life skills necessary in becoming productive citizens, she says.

“We want students to think about life beyond high school, beyond obtaining a college degree,” Mays said.

The academy opened on June 20 by giving the student participants their “send off” into the real world, a mock college graduation. The students also took the FOCUS career assessment to identify career interests. Students are assigned a career, salary and life circumstances for each week of the game, with the second assignment based on the results of their FOCUS assessment, Mays said.

The students play these roles as they “conduct” business with mock community businesses – roles played by staff from Southeast student development offices. The students will put their life skills to the test as they do business with bankers, grocers, realtors, doctors, day care centers, credit counselors, and tax assessors.

“Students think they will be able to afford a particular lifestyle based on what they dream of becoming or what they see in the media,” Mays said. “However, when presented with the facts, unavoidable circumstances and what it takes to make dreams a reality, they have to know how to manage life and all of its challenges. The objective of the ‘Game of Life’ is to help students understand what they need to do to gain employment following college, secure living quarters, budget wisely, and secure their futures.”

The program is doing just that, according to Tiffany Johnson, a sophomore from Charleston High School.

“It has given me a lot of experience in what to expect from the real world,” Johnson said. “I know how to fill out applications, how to take the ACT, and I know my choices for college.”

Johnson is already planning and setting goals for her future.

“I hope to become a forensic scientist and work important cases for the government or police headquarters,” she said.

Johnson also encourages other students to join the GEAR-UP program, stressing that the exposure they gain from the program will prepare them for college, entrance exams, applying for jobs and life.

“You get a real-world feeling and experience,” she said.

Jerikka Stewart, a sophomore from Caruthersville High School, agrees, saying the program has taught her more about the responsibility of college and adult life. She encourages other students to work hard and be ready for their future.

“This program puts you one step ahead for your future,” she said.

Students in the summer GEAR-UP academy also will participate in seminars regarding career choices, resume building, career planning, budgeting, applying for a job, interview skills, and professional ethics and etiquette, according to Mays.

The Southeast Office of Admissions and the Career Linkages Office conduct the career seminars. The collaboration involved in this effort is reflective of the GEAR-UP mission and true partnership, Mays said. 

The GEAR-UP program is a federal grant-funded program that partners Southeast Missouri State University with Charleston, Caruthersville and North Pemiscot middle and high schools, the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center, the Pemiscot County Initiative Network and Missouri Assistance Resource Services. It is designed to boost the academic achievement of low-income middle and secondary school students so that increasing numbers of students will graduate from high school, enroll and succeed in college.

“The GEAR-UP program exposes students to college information early-on, assists them in taking the correct curriculum to prepare for college, and allows them to visit regional college campuses” Mays said. “The program also has a career-development component,” she said.

In addition to the summer academy, the Bootheel Partnership GEAR-UP program offers workshops throughout the year. The program, which starts serving students during their seventh grade year, currently has about 700 participants. The GEAR-UP program is in its fifth year and will see its first graduating class next year, Mays said.