Program helps high schoolers climb the ‘steps’ to success

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A. Sue Weisler

Greece Olympia junior Rima Gebremariam gets help with her work from Ken Sayres, program director of the Liberty Partnerships Program in RIT’s Office of K-12 Programs.

Jordan Rawls used to struggle with grades, behavior and social acceptance in high school. “I really needed to focus more,” he says.

He participated in the RIT STEP program at Edison Tech High School in Rochester during his sophomore through senior years. The Science and Technology Entry Program, offered by RIT’s Office of K-12 Programs, provides academic enrichment in mathematics, science, technology and health-related fields.

He credits the program with helping him see what he could pursue in college. “STEP encouraged me to go to RIT. It opened up my eyes to what I want to do in life.”

Now Rawls, a second-year information technology major, works with the Liberty Partnerships Program offered by RIT’s Office of K-12 Programs. RIT partners with Greece Olympia High School and Iglesia Educational Centers, offering academic support and college and career preparation through workshops, internships, college tours, counseling and field trips.

“The need for support programs in the Greece area has been slowly increasing over the years,” says Katrina Wetzel, program counselor for Liberty Partnerships Program. “Our current roster accommodates 203 students from Greece Olympia High School.”

Students who participate in the Liberty Partnerships Program improve their problem-solving skills and academic success, Wetzel says. The program offers after-school tutoring sessions and life skills workshops at Greece Olympia. Tutors are provided through Iglesia Educational Centers. Students also come to RIT for Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, Summer Math Camp and Super Saturday events, which cover topics on college readiness and high school dropout prevention.

Rawls most recently helped out at this year’s Summer Math Camp, in which 25 high school students came to RIT every day for two weeks for workshops on college readiness and career exploration as well as math skills and techniques.

One of those students is Greece Olympia junior Rima Gebremariam. She joined the program after hearing about her cousin’s experience with RIT STEP at Rush-Henrietta.

“I wish we had this program a long time ago, even in middle school. I had friends that dropped out because no one was pushing us.”

She says her tutors and instructors provided the push she needed to get her schoolwork done. “They check grades and ask what’s going on. There’s a tutor for every subject, so there’s no excuse.”

Wetzel helped Gebremariam with job search and interview skills by providing applications, ads looking for employees, conducting mock interviews and going over interview skills. Gebremariam now has a part-time job at Tuxedo Junction, and she has been the employee of the month twice. She hasn’t decided on a college yet but hopes to someday be a doctor.

Rawls, who hopes to land a job in network administration, encourages others to give back. “Take the opportunity to take programs like these. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.”