By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
When it comes to college prep, most of the focus is on the students. But Herman Lumzy—the father of two Birmingham City School (BCS) students: a senior at A.H. Parker High School and a sixth grader at Phillips Academy—is one parent who is part of the process.
His 18-year-old daughter, Kamil Goodman, has been involved with Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) since she was in seventh grade, and Lumzy has been involved with the program since Kamil was in eighth grade.
GEAR UP is a federally funded college-awareness-and-readiness program that empowers students to attend and succeed in college. GEAR UP Birmingham has a seven-year grant from the federal government and has followed BCS students since the sixth and seventh grades; these young people are now high school juniors and seniors.
Lumzy is a GEAR UP ambassador.
“There are five other GEAR UP parent ambassadors, and we take pride in making sure that … whatever role they ask of us, [we] are very inclusive of reaching out to parents that may not be as involved or engaged,” he said.
“If your child is an 11th- or 12th-grade BCS student, you are a part of the GEAR UP cohort. It doesn’t cost anything. You don’t have to do anything. … You just participate,” Lumzy added. “There is a wealth of resources out there, and GEAR UP wants to expose you to all of them. … At times it’s frustrating because people don’t truly take advantage of those [opportunities].”
Lay a Solid Foundation
Project Director Tanzania Goldsmith said GEAR UP offers five mandatory programs for students:
- financial aid counseling and advising, which is offered to students and parents;
- rigorous academic curriculum, which involves advanced placement (AP), international baccalaureate (IB), honors classes, and dual-college-enrollment classes;
- supportive services, which include tutoring, ACT prep, and homework assistance;
- comprehensive mentoring;
- advisement, academic planning, and career counseling.
Other activities, she said, include “putting some foundational pieces into place, so our kids are both mentally ready and . . . academically ready to take on the challenge of being in a four-year institution, or, if they’re not, consider two-year options. There’s no reason [a student] shouldn’t be able to go to either one.”
Goldsmith added that the college-prep process looks different for every child, but all students are encouraged to look at their grades to see what they want to do and what steps they need to take to get there.
“Students need to be knowledgeable about opportunities available to them. They also need to know that the [Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)] is important if they plan to go to college—and parents need to be onboard to help with that process because [students] can’t complete it without them,” Goldsmith explained.
The FAFSA form determines a student’s financial aid eligibility, including loans, grants, and work-study opportunities; some colleges also use it to determine scholarship recipients. Each year, the FAFSA process opens on October 1; this year, applications will be accepted through April 1, 2020. Students are encouraged to complete the applications as soon as they can to qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid.
“Students also need to know about the ACT, what scores they need, and what they need to do if they score beneath [that threshold], so they can ask questions, such as ‘If I’ve got something below, can I get in on academic probation?’” said Goldsmith, adding that some schools—Alabama State University, for instance—have a summer bridge program.
“If a student is [accepted] on a conditional basis, the school will work with them over the summer as a requirement before admittance in freshman year,” she explained. “Students need to know what options are available.”
Do Some Research
Research is important, as well, Goldsmith said: “Look at the cost of attendance. If it’s affordable, make sure your family fills out the FASFA form, and figure out if you’re going to get a Pell Grant or if loans are an option.”
“All children deserve to be successful, however that looks for them,” she added. “We have to make sure they’re prepared regardless of where they come from. If they want help, we should be there to help guide them. I don’t think there’s one child out there that doesn’t want something to do. They just need to figure it out, have that conversation, and ask ‘What does that look like for me?’ If we can help [students] navigate that—whether they decide to attend a two-year or four-year college or get into the workforce—we want to make sure they get there.”
Lumzy said GEAR UP helped his daughter not only with resources but also with confidence.
“That confidence—that ability to recognize when she needs help and reach out and seek it through GEAR UP—is always a first resource for her,” he said. “We’re all appreciative of what GEAR UP has been able to provide.”
The organization made sure his family “stayed on the … right track with what we were looking for and did the right things to ensure that [Kamil] is college ready,” said Lumzy, adding that GEAR UP has a partnership with Regions Financial Corp. and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) that offers a parent-education program.
“There are so many resources and opportunities that are not just educational but are holistically transformative for families,” he added.
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