The Class of 2013 — about 275 strong — hears about a federally funded program for college aid.
At 14, Anna Martinez already knows she wants to be a lawyer.
The Waite High School freshman also now knows what she must do to get to college.
As part of their orientation and welcome last week, about 275 Waite freshmen were introduced to a federally funded program called Gear Up, short for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.
At orientation, choir director Janet Lyne leads the group during the singing of the Alma Mater.
Aimed at schools in low-income communities, the federal program provides scholarship money, helps students apply for financial aid, and supplies myriad other aid. This is the Class of 2013's first brush with Gear Up, but the program has been in East Toledo for about 10 years and received nearly $10 million in federal grants through Bowling Green State University.
So far, the program has helped 160 Waite graduates secure nearly $300,000 in scholarships to federally certified schools, including two and four-year colleges, said Becky Schardt, Waite's Gear Up coordinator.
Freshman football player Tyler Ragland runs through a greeting tunnel during Waite High School's orientation.
And because of the program, opportunities to apply for scholarships will come to her, Anna said.
"I think it will be really helpful," Anna said. "They will all be here at Waite."
Waite freshman Casee Paprocki said he also thinks Gear Up will help him in his quest to become a veterinarian.
Waite's cheerleaders help the freshmen get into the right spirit by leading them in one of the Indians' cheers.
The program has been successful at Waite, where graduation and college-admission rates are up, and BGSU student teachers have gained good experience at the high school, said John Fischer, project director of BGSU's Gear Up grant.
"The people in that building have worked really hard," he said.
Since Gear Up started at Waite, graduation rates have increased from about 50 percent to more than 80 percent last year, Ms. Schardt said. And while a few years ago the Ohio Department of Education designated Waite as being in academic emergency, the lowest category, for last school year Waite was rated as effective, the second highest.
Part of last week's freshmen orientation and welcome program was focused on helping students get through their first year of high school and ultimately graduate, Ms. Schardt said.
Older Waite students, for example, talked to the freshmen about their experiences and how important it is for them to start off right. The freshmen are divided into four clusters, each of which has teachers for the core subject areas of English, social studies, math, and science who work together with their students, Ms. Schardt said.
"We want them to be able to pass their classes," Ms. Schardt said. "It's all about that transition from middle to high school."
To get Gear Up scholarships, which are awarded through Toledo Community Foundation, students must earn at least 164 points during their high school years from academic achievements, community volunteerism, attendance, extracurricular activities, and other areas. They get three points for every A at the end of each semester, for example, and two points for every B.
Students can get points for volunteering with the American Red Cross, East Toledo Family Center, churches, and other agencies or functions, Ms. Schardt said. They must volunteer at least 45 hours during their high school years.
"We're looking for them to give back to the east side community through organizations," Ms. Schardt said.
Funding from the grant also is used for professional development for Waite teachers and student services, Ms. Schardt said. People from BGSU, including graduate students, help at the school, she said.
Other classes were introduced to the program at East Broadway Middle School, where it began in East Toledo a decade ago. Waite's Class of 2013 is the last to benefit from the most recent grant cycle, although there could be opportunities for additional funding, Ms. Schardt said.
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