From July 20 to 23, Bastrop High School will be represented in Washington D.C. as part of the Louisiana Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate programs, or LA GEAR UP, coalition of staff, students and teachers. This will be the 15th annual GEAR UP conference.

Ni'Gena Brooks, the Bastrop High School class valedictorian for 2014, and Darian Johnson, the state president of the Explorers' Club, were selected as two of the 30 students nationwide who will participate in the second GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy.

Morehouse will also be represented in the 2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Youth Congress by Isaac Porter, an incoming senior.

The students will receive training in grassroots advocacy, social media advocacy and leadership skills during the one week retreat. They will also be participating in a professional conference while interacting and learning with other GEAR UP students.

Both Brooks and Johnson spoke to the Enterprise about their experiences with GEAR UP.

"I love everything about the program," Brooks said. "The college fairs and college campus programs. I am a first generation college student, so it really helped."

Johnson said that with the program he has learned different ways to network and how to connect with congressman. During the visit to Washington, these students hope to demonstrate exactly how valuable the GEAR UP program can be and look forward to paying it forward for future participants.

"I'm in here to prepare for college. We've learned about admissions and the sign-up process," Porter said.

In addition to the students participating in the conference, Maria Theresa G. Yabut, a geometry teacher and LA GEAR UP school coordinator at BHS, will also attend.

According to a provided news release, the cost of registering for the Youth Congress, hotel accommodations, meals, and airfare will be covered by LA GEAR UP for all participants and the adult chaperone.

GEAR UP is a federally funded college access and success program serving approximately 700,000 low-income students across 43 states and three territories. GEAR UP programs serve students starting in seventh grade and follow the students through high school graduation or their first year of post-secondary enrollment. GEAR UP programs are designed to meet local educational needs and services often include academic tutoring, financial literacy, FASFA completion, college tours, parent engagement programs and more.