Hicks was the only school in Washington County to receive a federal grant to operate GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a program that targets seventh-graders. More than just a homework club, its activities and careful prodding get the kids thinking about life after high school.
The program will track the 215 students in this year's class through the rest of their education in Washington County, Eversole said.
An average of 40 students have been attending the Tuesday and Thursday afternoon sessions.
"The kids who come are in tune to the idea that everything they do today influences tomorrow," he said. "The first grades on college transcripts are sixth grade."
According to Washington County Board of Education figures, 31 percent of high school graduates go on to four-year colleges and 25 percent attend a two-year college.
The program has several goals, including directing parents in their role in the college process, exposing the students to local career opportunities and the mentoring of kids who need more guidance in career selection.
While GEAR UP focuses on seventh-graders, E. Russell Hicks secured a Safe Grant from the county School Board to start an after-school homework club for the sixth and eighth grades, said Sabrina McCoy, a physical education teacher who coordinates that program.
But GEAR UP is unique because of its emphasis on the future, Eversole said.
Over the summer, 80 seventh-graders signed up for a week of GEAR UP activities that included group problem-solving and a trip to Hagerstown Community College.
"We went in groups of 27 and half of each group didn't know Hagerstown Community College existed or didn't know where it was," Eversole said.
He said he hopes a tour of a four-year college and this month's college fair at South Hagerstown High School will further open their eyes.
Danielle Sisler, 11, and Corie Allen, 12, attended the summer program and said they are regulars at GEAR UP's afternoon sessions.
"I thought it would be a good program to help with my homework," said Danielle, who credits the program with changing her future goals of becoming a professional singer to teaching first grade.
"I just wanted to pass seventh grade," Corie said.
Other students had their goals in place before GEAR UP started, but said the extra help will put them ahead.
"I want to be a lawyer but I didn't know what schools I could go to. GEAR UP will help me figure out what college will meet my needs," said Caitlin Nicewarner, 12.
Eversole said that at first he will measure the program's success by grade reports and parental feedback.
"One mother already told me her daughter had never talked about extending her education and now she wants to go to Princeton."
Teachers Joe Richards and Valerie Roosa, who aide Eversole with the program, said they have already witnessed some improvements.
"I've noticed a change in their attitude and their willingness to get their work done," Richards said. "Most importantly we want to show them no matter how high they set their goals, if they work hard enough, they can be achieved."
Anyone interested in helping with the program and becoming a mentor may call the school at 301-766-8110.