Phenix City middle schoolers are already gearing up for college with a little help.

Take South Girard eighth grader Lauren Coleman. After school, she plans to attend UCLA and become the first African-American woman President of the United States of America. She won’t start college until at least 2020, but the 13-year-old is still dreaming big.

Lauren Coleman wants to be the first African-American woman president. Lauren and hundreds of other students who go to Title I schools posted their dreams on a dream wall and etched their futures on balloons they symbolically released Monday.

“I feel like they don’t have as much positivity going for them, especially like they just don’t have that feeling of they can do anything,” Lauren said. “This will help them a lot because they can go to any junior college or technical college in the state. And that will help them in the future.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, along with the state Board of Education and federal grant money, are assisting in a big way. The $49 million grant will reach more than 9,000 students from 21 school districts and 50 schools. Entitled GEAR UP ALABAMA, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for undergraduate programs, the program is designed to help students prepare for life after high school.

Whether students attend a two-year school, four-year school or technical trade school, the grant can help them get leg up on their futures for free. UAB will also match the donation, making it possible for students to go to the Blazers’ campus after successfully completing a two-year college.

Jaleigh Hardin wants to be a registered nurse. She loves that GEAR UP Alabama will help her achieve her goals. “With the GEAR UP program, you worry less because if you do good in two years of junior college, you always have a chance to go farther than that and farther is better,” eighth grader Jaleigh Hardin said. Jaleigh says she also draws inspiration from her family to become a registered nurse.

GEAR UP Team Leader Amy Carver says the seven-year program starts when a student reaches middle school. She says the opportunity ensures a brighter future for students. “Our goal is to introduce them to college because a lot of the parents of our students have never been to college,” Carver said.

Source: WRBL