A strong mind and body can lead to success in education.  It’s a new mantra for seventh and eighth graders enrolled in the UTC Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).  They’ve spent the last two weeks in Tunnel Hill, Georgia, where GEAR UP and the Tennessee National Guard partnered to provide a two-week boarding camp. 

Academic preparation for college is the main objective of GEAR UP at UTC, which draws students from five local urban schools.  Mentors also work to help improve the young students’ self-esteem and generate parental and community involvement in the academic preparation of the students.

UTC’s GEAR UP program is in the third year of a seven-year funding cycle with support provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Camp GEAR UP is not a military program, according to GEAR UP Director Dr. Hunter Huckabay, though the values and the principles the National Guard emphasize are very helpful as students prepare for college.  Campers learned the benefits of discipline and structure from the National Guard, which helps these young students see that steady effort, incremental progress and a productive daily routine will lead to big gains and help them achieve their goals.

“A kid who shows up at 6 a.m. every morning at camp for P.T. (physical training) sees that those daily doses of exercise have added up by the end of the week to make her stronger.  We make sure she understands that similar efforts in school and in her home life will bring the same positive results,” Huckabay explained.

Teamwork is also emphasized by the Tennessee National Guard.  It’s also a crucial skill in college and the work world, Huckabay said.

“By learning drill and ceremony from the National Guard, our campers learn about leadership, how to blend their efforts to produce a result that exceeds what they could have managed individually, and how to react to and supplement the contributions of their fellow campers.  No one makes it through college without being able to work well on group projects or help contribute to a group presentation, and that certainly is a bedrock requirement of the professional world.  The military’s ability to teach teamwork in a practical way helps our campers grasp these critical skills,” Huckabay said.

Campers also took math and English courses, taught by a Hamilton County teacher to give the students a “crucial and meaningful head start on these important classes,” Hunter said.

“When our campers begin their classes in the coming school year, they will be familiar with the initial concepts they will be asked to master in their math and reading classes.  Students who get off to a quick start at the beginning of the year tend to maintain that momentum for the duration of the school year.  Also, we give each camper a book from their summer reading list and we provide them time and incentive to read those books while at camp, so each of our campers starts the school year with one of their major assignments already completed.”

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