Fairmont State’s GEAR-UP program is hoping to help some West Virginia kids become better students by giving them a free computer.

One hundred five students from more than 14 counties, including 14 from Marion, will receive the systems sometime in June, according to Amy Fazalare, Fairmont State’s GEAR-UP project director. Calling it a “computer scholarship,” the school held a banquet at the Feaster Center on Fairmont State’s campus Sunday to honor the students who had been chosen.

“We’ve always thought that having that technology in the home is really important to the students’ education,” she said.

Students will receive a new Gateway computer and monitor, color printer and software worth about $2,200, according to Pam Heaster, marketing director for Clarksburg-based Heaster-Hart LLC. Her company has partnered with Fairmont State to provide the computers.

“They do a really good job of ... finding those kids (who) will really benefit from having the computer,” Heaster said.

The students will also receive free Internet access from CityNet for the duration of Fairmont State’s current GEAR-UP grant (about six years). Heaster said the Internet access raises the system’s value to about $3,000 total.

Before the students get the systems, their parents will undergo training through Fairmont State, including advice on how to keep their children safe on the Internet, according to Fazalare.

“The FBI is letting us use their white-collar and computer crime lab for training,” Fazalare said.

The students were selected by Fairmont State on the basis of an application. Fazalare said they also considered students attendance at school, teacher recommendations, grade-point average and their participation in other GEAR-UP programs at their schools.

The application was lengthy. It requested statements from the students about how a computer would help them be better students and prepare them for college, and how it would help their family. Parents had to write about how important a new computer would be to their children’s future and if it would be difficult for the family to purchase one on their own, according to Fairmont State.

Fairmont State was the first GEAR-UP program to give computer scholarships to students and has done so since 1999, when it received its first GEAR-UP grant. Fazalare said nearly 2,000 families have received the scholarships.

GEAR UP is a six-year, federally funded initiative that aims to increase the number of students who are prepared to succeed in education beyond high school. Fairmont State received a second GEAR-UP grant in 2005, this time for $31 million, to continue the program for another six years.

E-mail Justin McLaughlin at jmclaughlin@timeswv.com.

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