NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The high school students attending summer classes in Upward Bound will most likely graduate on time and get a diploma. But they’re giving up summers and Saturdays during the school year with an eye on what happens after high school. That’s one goal of Upward Bound– a program for high school students who want to go to college, have the grades to do so, but don’t have the opportunity or know-how to get there.
Even high-performing students, like Aniya Milford, need the kind of boost Upward Bound gives. Milford attends a selective academic magnet high school in Nashville that is one of the most rigorous in the South.
“I know that I’m smart. But it’s not the same as staying in the school,” says Milford. “You have to maintain that work and that drive to stay in the school. So sometimes when it gets too challenging you do need help.
“The Saturdays in Upward Bound helped. The tutoring, the encouragement and the motivation helped. So I can see myself getting into a good university.”
That idea– getting into a good university– is not on the radar for many students when they start Upward Bound, according to program officials.
“I would say that 50-percent of our students have not even considered going to college before they were introduced to Upward Bound,” says Victoria Hayes, executive director of Upward Bound at Tennessee State University in Nashville. “Often they say ‘I might…’ or ‘My mom can’t afford it’ or ‘Nobody in our family has…’ Upward Bound gives them the the exposure, the opportunity, the awareness to see the things that happen on a college campus.”
The TSU Upward Bound program was among the first in the United States when the federal government created the program in the early 1960s. Now there are more than 800 Upward Bound programs operating year-round, typically based at universities. There are specific criteria for students who are accepted into the program.
“Our students come from 13 of the 14 metro (Nashville) target schools. We look at the graduation rates; we look at the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch; we look at the demographics of the school to see if the students there really needed our resources. The program is designed for first-generation low income families. And because of that we wanted to make sure we target an area that was encountering those kind of issues,” explains Hayes.
“We get them at that 9th grade year and work with them consistently. You can’t just start and then drop. They’ve got to see that it’s a reinforcement of everything.”
That reinforcement is valuable to students like Jocelyn Figueroa, a 10th grader who is a good student, but attends a low-performing high school and has personal challenges.
“I was in foster care for a while and I got adopted when I was 6 years old… and ever since then I’ve tried to overcome that and be something better. Upward bound has impacted me in the way that—they help me, they talk to me and they give me advice and they help me with my work.”
Many students report that Upward Bound helps them stay on track in high school work as well as embracing and preparing for college. And there are other less measurable benefits, according to some, like 15-year-old Elizabeth Hernandez, who is an English language learner.
“I’ve seen my personality grow. I’’m comfortable asking questions to adults. And before Upward Bound, I was very shy. I couldn’t express myself,” says Hernandez.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 8 out of 10 Upward Bound students go on to post-secondary education.
“We have dentists, lawyers, doctors, counselors, teachers, principals… NFL players,” says Hayes. “So when you see all the successes that the program can do and you can show the students that you have currently ‘Look at what’s available to you.’ It’s kind of like a mentorship not to give up.”