OHS GEAR UP Coordinator Barb Hanson (far right) took a photo with her GEAR UP students in March 2019 when the class of 2020 took their ACT. It was the first time the school district had wide ACT testing for juniors during the school day.

OTTUMWA — Ottumwa High School GEAR UP Coordinator Barb Hanson got joyful when she reflected on her time with GEAR UP students, delighted by the “precious memories.”

But she was also saddened she had to see those memories come to a sudden end with the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement classes would not resume for the rest of the year.

“Hearing about it — I knew it was coming and it hit me hard as well as the staff,” Hanson said. “They had big plans.”

OHS seniors and GEAR UP students Mariann Valdez, Carollin Mellin, Issac Ford, Hasya Joshi and Kristine “KC” Mobo were also saddened by the announcement, but ready to pursue their dreams after high school.

Valdez plans to attend Evangel University, a private Christian university in Missouri and study intercultural studies. She isn’t set on a career.

Mellin, a student involved in music, track, cross-county and synchronized swimming, is undecided on a college but would like to study biology and wants to be a dentist. Ford plans to pursue missionary work, then go to Indian Hills and choose a four-year college afterwards. His dream is to become an opera singer.

Joshi plans to attend the University of Iowa and major in biomedical engineering on a pre-med track in the university’s honors program. Mobo wants to attend Indian Hills, desiring to study physical therapy before transferring to a four-year college.

All of the students are at home from school, trying to cope. Mellin misses running for her school but is determined to keep a positive attitude and is thankful for her time in the GEAR UP program.

“It has helped me understand opportunities after high school,” she said. “It’s also helped me with public speaking and having to go up in front of groups. It has helped me learn life lessons. I’m thankful for everything, but not ready to say goodbye so soon.”

Valdez got a head start in the program in seventh grade. She visited colleges frequently and became passionate in helping coordinate cultural fairs. “Even if I didn’t talk to everyone, not seeing everyone from middle school and high school is going to be different, it’s all gone,” she said. “Miss Hanson has helped me with the applications and helped me on FAFSA night and with the overall college application process.”

Joshi also helped promote culture as he was one of the students who put up flags in the cafeteria. He credits Hanson for helping shape him into the young man that he is.

“Miss Hanson always believed in me and has always been such a great support to me,” Joshi said. “After high school I want to ask how I could make an impact. I decorated the cafeteria with flags as a way to boost morale and let others radiate off it.”

Joshi, like the other students, was taken aback by Reynolds’ school closure announcement.

“I have very mixed feelings. It was something for the better and I didn’t want that to affect the health of other students,” he said. “I will value the times and the memories. Even though these are tough times, we are a tough class.”

Ford said the GEAR UP program helped him realize he didn’t want to start a four-year college right away. It also taught him a life lesson.

“I learned to never take time for granted because what you have can change,” Ford said. “Don’t worry about the bumps in the road.”

Although he can’t go back to school, he still cherishes the kindness he tried to show others at school, hoping to continue that in his music.

“I love seeing people and how much potential they have,” Ford said. “If I can put a smile on someone’s face, that’s what matters. I can’t always keep up a conversation; the best way to express myself is through my music. Each person interprets it differently, but if I am singing a song and it touches someone’s life, then that’s amazing.”

Mobo, like the others, had her share of memories and lessons.

“There’s a lot of memories since the beginning that lingers,” Mobo said. “ I see her [Hanson] as family, her classroom was a safe haven for me. I helped with a lot of art projects and every moment was a good memory … all in all I’m very happy to have been involved in the group — thank you.

“Think more positively; if you linger at the bad stuff you won’t go anywhere,” Mobo added.

Hanson got emotional once more reflecting on her time with students, grateful for the time spent with them. She’s ready to celebrate their accomplishments.

“It’s a blessing to be in my position and watched them grow from sophomores to seniors,” Hanson said.

“They’ve really blossomed. I want them to be celebrated as they leave their mark.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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