GEAR UP for the National Youth Leadership Summit with Stephanie Garcia

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2018

GEAR UP Georgia not only brings resources to students and their hometown, it gives program participants a chance to travel and broaden their horizons. Leadership encompasses an understanding of cultural, ethnic, social, and academic diversity. Stephanie Garcia, one of Shiver Middle School’s star students said, “It really is amazing to be able to see other parts of the world” through her peer’s eyes via social media.

In February 2017, Stephanie and her sister, Chasity (Shiver Middle School ParaPro) participated in the GEAR UP Georgia Student and Parent Leadership Summit in Athens, Georgia. Stephanie was chosen 1 out of 4 students to represent Grady County. GEAR UP Georgia Local Program Coordinator, Ms. Dawn Harrison, was so shocked by the outcome, she decided to pursue routes to nominate Stephanie to represent Georgia at the NCCEP/GEAR UP National Youth Leadership Summit in Washington D.C.  Ms. Harrison and Ms. Melissa Gattuso, GEAR UP Georgia Director of Implementation at the Board of Regents, went the extra mile, as they always do, and requested an additional seat for Georgia as the two assigned had been filled. While chatting with Chasity and Stephanie, Ms. Harrison discussed the process of getting Stephanie accepted for the summit. Strong willed and determined, the GEAR UP Georgia representative was not going to take no for an answer. After countless emails, texts, and telephone calls, she succeeded. Ms. Harrison had finally received a phone call from Ms. Gattuso asking if she would care to invite Mrs. Leigh Stalvey, Shiver Middle School’s Assistant Principal, and Stephanie Garcia to Washington D.C., and she excitedly confirmed the plans. Stalvey generously passed her seat to Chasity, so Stephanie would be more comfortable at the larger scale event. The assistant principal said she wanted Chasity to able to support her sister on this journey to overcoming her anxiety. In a letter, Ms. Harrison pleaded for Stephanie’s nomination. She mentions Stephanie’s expedient progress, saying “Ms. Gattuso indicated that Leadership was normally not focused on until 10th grade.  I didn’t want to accept that for Stephanie and asked what could be done to prepare her for a 10th grade nomination. Ms. Gattuso had the idea to name Stephanie as our ABAC-Bainbridge/Shiver Student Ambassador.  We recognized Stephanie as such during Shiver’s PTO/STEM/GEAR UP Night in September 2017.” Stephanie was already on the way to defeating her anxiety, and she was clearly doing a fantastic job. By focusing on building her resume and presence in the program, Stephanie created a foundation for herself with the help of GEAR UP Georgia, earning her a well-deserved seat at the national summit. With the news finding her ears soon before departure, she had little time to prepare herself for what was to come.

Luckily, Stephanie had flown before and was not intimidated by the flight to Washington D.C.  Although Ms. Harrison accompanied the girls on their flight, the first night was a little rough. When the girls arrived, they were placed in a hotel 5 blocks away from the conference’s location, instead of the corresponding hotel as it was completely booked for the event. Stephanie and Chasity both found themselves struggling to breathe for a brief moment due to the crowds of people shuffling through the summit registration process and the looming thoughts of having to catch a cab late at night in an unfamiliar city. Stephanie said she was unaware of her sister’s battle with anxiety, and this moment forced them to be strong for one another. Soon after they collected themselves, Ms. Gattuso appeared and offered her room at the corresponding hotel. This moment captured how kind the GEAR UP Georgia staff was!  Ms. Gattuso and Ms. Harrison went to work right away transferring luggage between the two hotels while the girls were attending their first night sessions. 

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Dr. Michael Kirkland, Executive Director of ABAC at Bainbridge asked ABAC-Bainbridge’s Professional Development Coordinator/Professor of Criminal Justice, Ms. Melissa Harrell, if she would be interested in accompanying Ms. Harrison in support of ABAC-Bainbridge’s involvement with GEARUP Georgia. Ms. Harrell was indeed pleased to go. She felt this would be a wonderful experience to share with Stephanie, and a great way to learn not just of the program’s purpose, but of its positive effects. Sitting down with Ms. Harrell after she had returned from the conference, she noted, “When we first arrived, I was completely shocked by the enormous size of the summit. Seeing this massive facility and the thousands of people attending, I knew that it was going to be a life-changing experience. Seeds and GEAR UP Georgia are creating a new thinking pattern—one based on dissolving fears and barriers of the mind that stem from negative experiences or thoughts.” Ms. Harrell expressed her glee and admiration for GEAR UP Georgia, and for Ms. Harrison as well. Stephanie and Chasity also reiterated Ms. Harrell’s statements in reference to Ms. Harrison’s giving nature and inspiring spirit.

Ms. Tammy Donalson, Cairo High School’s Assistant Principal, attended the District Leadership Institute at the National Summit.  Similar to Ms. Harrell’s observations, she was taken aback at the representation throughout the United States and how willingly attendees shared their barriers and tools for overcoming them.  She has been assigned a project centered around her school’s implementation of the GEAR UP Georgia services, and looks forward to working on the project with Ms. Harrison.  She is thankful to be representing Cairo High School at the District Leadership Institute.

Despite the hectic beginning, the summit more than made up for the rocky start. Stephanie said she learned things about herself and other cultures by doing group activities which required everyone in the room to be supportive. When asked about her favorite activity, Chasity brought up the “board breaking” exercise led by the Seeds trainers, and Stephanie quickly agreed. She openly explained, “I wrote anxiety, because we had to write down what we feared most. I loved learning how to chop the board in half, and it felt good to see the word anxiety break in half.” So, Stephanie began to break through that barrier with joy and support.