Gear Up students find easier transition to high school

Freshmen students stick together for core classes

High school math teacher Chris Painter observes his Algebra 1 Gear Up class

High school math teacher Chris Painter was beginning a new unit on linear functions in Algebra 1. As he moved about his freshman class on an early Friday morning, he asked students how to represent and analyze patterns.

Freshmen Izak Welsheimer and Madison McCauley brainstormed ways to get the answer. They, and classmates, were learning different formulas can lead to the same solution.

Painter was tapping into students’ knowledge from middle school and building on it. “The goal for the group was to start seeing connections,” he said later.

Gear Up Algebra 1 teacher Chris Painter lectures his freshmen class about linear functions

Gearing Up for Success

His class is part of a special Gear Up program to help 60 freshmen adjust to high school. Out of 310 freshmen, the largest ninth grade class in Cedar Springs’ history, that’s 20 percent of the class. The goal is to help students learn what it looks like to be successful in high school and learn what it takes to achieve that success, Painter said.

“We help monitor students, try to develop personal connections with each student, and we have developed common messaging,” explained Painter, who’s taught every math course available at Cedar Springs High School in the past 15 years.

Students say they like the extra support.

“I have a lot more one-on-one with my teachers instead of a big class,” said Izak, who plays football and wrestles for the Red Hawks. “Your teachers help you transition into all this new stuff…I thought it’d be a lot rougher in high school, but really, it’s not. They work with you a lot more so your grades will go a lot higher than you might expect.”

Gear Up English teacher Melissa Damico said the program builds up students’ self-confidence while hopefully lowering their anxiety.

“Our goal is to academically and socially prepare students for success in high school and beyond,” she explained. “Gear Up has smaller class sizes, which makes it easier for students to approach and get one-on-one time with each of their core teachers.”

Assistant Principal Jeremy Verwys said  Gear Up students were chosen based on factors such as middle school GPA, attendance, discipline referrals, social and emotional concerns and if they are new to the district.

Four by Four

Four experienced teachers instruct four classes, each with two sections of Gear Up per day. Staff includes Painter, Damico, World History teacher David Stuart, and biology teacher Eddie Johns.

Tech 21, the course’s original name, began 10 years ago. The program is getting overhauled this year to catch up to technology and its prevalence in high school.

Chris Painter teaches linear functions to his freshmen Gear Up class in Algebra 1
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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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