Since 1999, he Ruth Patrick Science Education Center has been the venue for USC Aiken's GEAR UP program but due to budget cuts at the federal level, this program as we know it will end on August 31, 2005. However, on August 4th, the South Carolina Commision on Higher Education invited USC Aiken to apply for a one0year extension for the purpose of tracking and mentoring students who have been participants in the Saturday Academics and Summer Institutes. USC Aiken will folow up on this option and if successful, the modified program will run from September 1, 2005 to August 31, 2006.

GEAR UP, an acronum for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergratuate Programs, is a nationwide programs that recruits participants annuyally from middle schools with a large percentage of "at-risk" students. The objective of the program is to encourage students and their families to prepare successfully for high school and post-secondary educational experiences. Over the past six years, GEAR UP has touched the lives of 373 students from six Aiken County middle schools, offering each group enrichment classes in Mathematics, Science, Language Arts, and Life Skills. The first group of students who entered the program in 1999 graduated from high school in May 2005 and fifty-six percent of them will be continuing their education at post-secondary institutions in the fall of 2005.

Many students credit the GEAR UP program with helping them to focus on what they need to do to be successful in their educational career and to set goals on which they can focus. In a thank you letter to the staff, a former student from the class of 2003 wote, "I hate to see Gear Up come to an end! Although my class has moved on, I still want other youth to take part in such a wonderful program. I will never, ever, forget such wonderful times I've had with GEAR UP."

In a recent interview with the Aiken Standard, former GEAR Up director Gwen Johnson said the program is not dead but may "take on a new focus." She added, "While GEAR UP won't continue in the form of the past, we'll still be working with children who are in need with the goal of closing the achievement gap." Plans are being made to preserve some components of the program such as the SAT preparation workshops, life skills classes, tutoring efforts, and educational field trips.

On Saturday, August 27, the GEAR UP, in conjunction with the South Carolina Alliance of Black Student Educators, will sponsor a community conference entitled "Closing the Achievement Gap in South Carolina: A Call to Action." Educators, parents, students, and representatives from the faith-based community, civic and social organizations will gather in the gym of the Business and Education Building of USC Aiken to focus on concrete strategies designed to engate the African American community in doing our part to close the achievement gap between African American children and other groups. For more information, the publi may contact Jenifer Ramseur, or Joyce Johnson at 803-641-3313.