Girl face-timing and studying

PTC and Laurens School Districts Partner for GEAR UP Initiative

Piedmont Technical College (PTC) tutor Ian Levine understands the students who seek academic help from him. He has been there.

“I was a special education student from 4th grade up to college,” he said, having been diagnosed with dyscalculia, a condition likened to math dyslexia in which sufferers have difficulty with a variety of math-related tasks such as counting backwards and performing calculations. Thanks to a federal GEAR UP grant and partnership with Laurens School Districts 55 and 56, Levine is giving back through tutoring and mentorship.

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a highly competitive federal grant program (awarded to local school districts) that provides academic and other support services to potentially underserved middle school and high school students. The grant follows students from 7th grade until the end of their first year of college. Through this partnership, PTC is supporting the program’s final year (first year in college) for this 140-student cohort.

“Provisions of this grant include an instructor (Levine) to support the cohort, tutoring and at least four workshops a semester, as well as laptops, textbooks, access to graphing calculators and online learning for students in the Laurens partnership cohort,” said Eric Delgado, academic success coach at PTC. “These resources are designed to help connect students with academic, financial and personal advising.”

Toni Able, a Laurens School District 55 employee who oversees the cohort, notes that the pandemic has been hard for many students, and participants may not readily avail themselves of some of their GEAR UP cohort benefits.

“We all struggle with the ‘virtual-ness’ of everything now,” she said. “Kids are tired of virtual. They desperately want face-to-face interactions. … Their first semester in college, across the board, has been hard on them.”

Able noted that many students may be reluctant to ask for help, and that’s only human nature. Most people, she added, won’t ask for help until they are in dire straits. That makes it even more important to keep GEAR UP students engaged. Every student in the cohort has Able’s personal cell number, and the trust built over the years has empowered students in the cohort to reach out. If for any reason they can’t immediately reach Able, her fellow counselor Jordan Greene picks up. There’s never a contact gap. “We always have their back.”

“I firmly believe that if students would take advantage of at least half of the resources we offer them, they would be hugely successful,” Able said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t wait until you are on the struggle bus the night before an exam. Tutoring is there to help sharpen your skills and prepare you.’”

After overcoming his own challenges, Levine went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in professional writing. He has been teaching and tutoring for about seven years in English as well as some remedial math. His experiences have instilled in him tremendous empathy for students who could benefit from some extra support.

“I want my students to know that I was in the very classes that they are in now,” Levine said. “When I was in remedial math, I felt stupid. … Not only did I catch up to my peers, but I got ahead of them. Now I am a college English instructor.”



  • GEAR UP Tutor Ian Levine
  • PTC Academic Success Coach Eric Delgado