West Virginia GEAR UP’s Student Leadership Academy held Tuesday for middle schoolers


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 1,500 middle students from dozens of schools in the state had the opportunity to begin college and post-graduation planning on Tuesday.

The West Virginia GEAR UP Student Leadership Academy took place at the Clay Center in Charleston which featured informative and motivational college-planning activities.

Jason Luyster

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn more about all the different forms of higher education and specialized career training, get them excited about their future and help them plan for those future goals,” Jason Luyster, Assistant Director of West Virginia GEAR UP told MetroNews.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s Chancellor of Higher Education, delivered opening remarks before a college mascot dance-off/talent competition took place. Mascots included from WVU, Marshall, Concord, WVU-Parkersburg, and WVU Tech

Juan Bendana, an author, DJ and renowned youth motivation speaker delivered remarks following the dance-off.

“I want you to be proud to talk about college and what it means for your future. I want you to talk to your friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, and cousins, and tell them they can reach higher too,” Tucker told the crowd.

Participating students represented 34 middle schools from the 11 counties served by West Virginia GEAR UP: Boone, Clay, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Nicholas, Roane, Wayne, Webster, and Wirt.

According to WV GEAR UP, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission was awarded a $24 million GEAR UP grant from the U.S. Department of Education in October 2021 to provide college-planning and readiness services for more than 17,500 students in these counties over seven years.

This was the first academy for WV GEAR UP since 2019 due to COVID-19 and a previous grant expiring.

No scholarships were awarded to students Tuesday but 11 laptop computers were given out.

Luyster said it’s important to start informing children earlier in there, specifically middle school, about the possibilities after high school.

“Out of the 1,500 students we have on hand, we know they are going to go 1,500 different directions. We need to help them to figure out what that direction is and help them to start taking those steps to achieve that goal,” he said.


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