Working to grab students’ attention early to point them toward a future college and career, Nolan Middle School launched a plan Friday called GEAR UP, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

The federal grant includes seventh- and eighth-graders at five Killeen Independent School District middle schools among 22 across the Region 12 Education Service Center.

Those students will receive tutoring, mentoring, financial aid counseling, college visits, job site visits and a variety of workshops and family events aimed at moving them to post secondary education.

In Killeen ISD, Nolan, Palo Alto, Manor, Smith and Audie Murphy middle schools are benefiting from the early intervention grant. The services follow the students through 12th grade.

Lisa Velasco, the GEAR UP facilitator at Nolan, said the introduction with soldiers providing an obstacle course, a medical helicopter landing and numerous college and career presentations was about awareness.

“Today is about awareness for kids,” Velasco said. “Students need to have ideas in mind (about possible career choices).”

Looking up at a group of students, Velasco asked, “What is Gear Up?”

The students said, “I’m going to college.”

“That’s what it means to them,” she said. Across the school parking lot, students talked with soldiers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and helicopter pilots.

Inside the school cafeteria, the students talked with representatives from Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Central Texas College, Texas Tech, Texas State Technical Institute and others.

The day of awareness was just the beginning.

Students will visit a regional college night later this month and attend an engineering fair in Waco next month, as well as hear from guests from various schools and the workplace.

“College is exciting,” said Nolan eighth-grader Trey Fisher, who said he wants to be a prosecuting attorney. “I’m looking forward to my career.”

Seventh-grader Ashley Collins said she wanted to be a veterinarian because she likes animals and wants to help those that suffer.

“You get to explore your career,” she said of the excitement of GEAR UP. She reached into a bag and pulled out a brochure from McLennan Community College called Veterinary and Agriculture.

“This is giving them an expectation,” said Nolan principal Lolly Garcia, “they know the opportunities are there.”

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