Summer Learning: Upward Bound Takes Students Through High School And Beyond


Remember when you could get a job with just a high school diploma? By 2020, it’s projected that 65 percent of jobs will require a diploma, AND, higher education. Upward Bound is more than doubling the chances of low-income, first-generation students graduating and going to college nationwide, including 6,500 in the Deep South. Today, Louisiana Public Broadcasting producers Kevin Gautreaux and Shauna Sanford take a look at this federally funded program and its summer work in Part 3 of our series on Summer Learning.

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“What number is this?”
“Number four…What do we have inside of number four. Let’s reexamine this.”
“Twenty drops of ethanol…”

The students in this college level chemistry class are actually all still in high school. They’re spending six weeks of their summer break at southern university in Baton Rouge preparing for the fall semester.

“I wasn’t quite getting everything I needed at school and Upward Bound sounded like it was a good opportunity to fill that gap.” says Nichols Linton.

Nicholas Linton will be a senior this coming school year. He was reluctantly dragged by friends into the Upward Bound program two years ago, but now he’s a believer.

“It’s already helped me through my ACT’s cause I got a 28 on my first try.” Nicholas says, “So it’s already proved that it’s helped me a lot.”

Upward Bound is giving Niaclle Bitota a head start in mathematics.

Niaclle says, “ I never took advanced math before I’m going to take it my senior year and it’s preparing me for it.”

Niaclle came to the U.S. from Mali five years ago. Upward Bound is helping her master speaking English and laying out plans to become a doctor. She looks forward to becoming a trailblazer for her family.

She says, “My nieces and nephew will follow me back by doing the same thing they saw their auntie doing it because I will be the first one in my family to graduate college.”

Upward Bound is a college preparatory program offered to high school students from either low-income families or ones in which neither parent has a college degree. It’s one of a cluster of programs referred to as “Trio,” that started in 1964 as part of the “War On Poverty.” Participants take Saturday classes during the school year and six weeks of coursework during the summer. Rhonda Robinson has been the camp director for Southern’s Upward Bound program for the last 20 years.

“They’re involved in core courses such as English, math and science, reading, foreign language – and they’re also involved in special activities – we call them special projects here at Southern – such as web design.” Rhonda explains. “We have research courses like robotics, web computer science classes.”

Julius Turner participated in Upward Bound in 1996 and has worked for the program every summer since he graduated high school…only taking time out to earn a medical degree. He returned in 2010 as a biology instructor.

“Because I wanted to give back to the program that gave so much to me and seeing that there was a need, especially in the science area, to get the students to be where they needed to be,” Turner says, “Because I have this notion that in LA, we can raise bright students, given the right atmosphere.”

High school graduates can spend their first summer in the Upward Bound “Bridge” program, earning college credit while experiencing campus life…all on upward bound’s dime. An opportunity that Maria Morgan says changed her life.

“I was indecisive because it cost a lot of money but whenever they told me that they would at least pay for my summer session so I can get a feeling what it’s like, I said I’ll go” Maria says, “Now I’m going to college for sure!”

Upward Bound is in its 51st year nationally with locations in all 50 states. Tennessee State University started piloting the program in 1965. Victoria Hayes is the current director. In 2002 when federal funding dried up, private dollars were used to keep the program going until the federal support picked up again.

Hayes says, “We came back in 2007 and received it back… and we’ve been going strong ever since!”

As a high-schooler, Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd attended Upward Bound at Alabama State University. After graduating she attended Yale, and worked at Johns Hopkins University for 33 years before returning in 2013 to serve as president of Alabama State.

Boyd says, “Only God could make that happen but God through working through the people and programs like Upward Bound, who instilled in me hope, a desire to dream big and live big and have big dreams for myself.”

Back in Baton Rouge at Southern University, the Upward Bound session culminated with the students going on an educational road trip to Orlando, Florida. As Nicholas points out, although the experience has ended, it has started him on a new journey.

He says, “It’s being able to have that extra edge in education and having that little bit extra to help me get to the next stage of you know college education and then beyond…into life.”

This report is funded by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. It’s part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a public media initiative working with communities to help more students to graduate from high school.

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