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Onward with upward bound

Program builds both skills and confidence

Tiffany Fannin works on a service learning activity during Summer Academy 2019. Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Morehead State University
Participants work on student built computers. Photo: Morehead State University
Students learn about the rehabilitation of sea animals at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Morehead State University
Anabel Peterman, Maggie Bracket and Keileigh Shrout check out some sea creatures at the Long Beach Marine Institute Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Morehead State University
A classroom robotics competition using student built robots. Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Morehead State University
Photo: Murray State University
Students work together on a project. Photo: Murray State University

Through Upward Bound, high school students can get a jump-start on preparing for college.   

“For a lot of students, Upward Bound is a life-defining experience, because they’re able to see a world that’s much larger than the county that they’re in,” says Amanda Lewis, director of the Upward Bound Program at Morehead State University—Kentucky’s largest and oldest Upward Bound program. Upward Bound is a federal program, launched in 1965 and funded through the United States Department of Education.

Springboard for success

Free for participants, Upward Bound provides ACT test prep, college visit opportunities and life skills lessons; and tutoring, college admission and financial aid assistance. It also offers cultural excursions throughout the academic year and multiweek, on-campus residential experiences in the summer. 

Low-income students as well as students who will become the first generation in their family to attend college are eligible to apply to the Upward Bound program serving their school or county (see sidebar on page 28). Once enrolled, students stay in the program through their senior year of high school. Currently, more than 1,800 high schoolers across the state participate. 

Students can get information about the program through their guidance office and typically apply as ninth graders, though it’s possible to join later. 

What comes next is both fun and formational.

“The taste of college life and the access to academic resources have been some of my favorite parts,” says Morehead State Upward Bound participant Trey McGlone, a senior at West Carter High School in Olive Hill who plans to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall. “I’ve met a lot of science and engineering instructors (during the on-campus residential summer program) who were able to teach me beyond what I was learning in my regular classes.”

During the summer after their senior year, the Morehead Upward Bound students also can take two college-credit courses.

College and cultural exploration

In addition to living on campus and enrolling in enrichment courses for five weeks each summer, students in Morehead’s Upward Bound Program can enjoy cross-country trips to visit college campuses and explore the U.S.

“We recently took a group of students to Boston for a college tour to Harvard, and they got to go to Salem and experience the Boston Tea Party (re-enactment),” says Lewis, a Fleming-Mason Energy consumer-member. 

“And last March we took a group of students on a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) tour to California focusing on marine biology, where they got to learn about oceanography and do a flight simulation. On that same trip, we did a behind-the-scenes tour at Disneyland.” 

Students at Murray State University’s Upward Bound Program also have opportunities to travel to multiple colleges and take in cultural opportunities on the way. “We have visited a range of public and private institutions—both large and small schools—to try to give our students different perspectives so they can figure out where they would fit in,” says Buffy Blanton, a director of Upward Bound programming at Murray State. 

Building confidence

Opportunities to travel and befriend fellow participants from beyond their home high school have helped twin brothers Keifer and Jeremiah Cornelius, seniors at Harrison County High School, build their communication skills and confidence.

“My brother and I are not the most social people at school, so it’s been great to meet like-minded people (in Upward Bound) who are quirky like us as well,” says Jeremiah, who—like his brother—plans to enroll at the University of Louisville this fall. 

For Clark County educator Beth Dennis, who participated in Morehead State’s Upward Bound in the early 2000s as a student at Bell County High School, the program offered a much-needed support network as she navigated the college application process. Dennis ended up enrolling at Morehead State because she’d had such a good experience there as an Upward Bound student. 

“I was the first to graduate with a college degree in my family, and Upward Bound helped in every way possible, from helping fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to taking me to the bookstore to make sure I got the appropriate books I needed for my classes,” says Dennis, a Clark Energy consumer-member. 

While Upward Bound programs differ slightly among colleges, most bring students to their campuses at least one Saturday a month throughout the school year for academic enrichment, and also provide tutoring and other assistance at the students’ high schools almost weekly. 

“We’re a college access program. Our mission is to help students be academically prepared for college—to successfully complete high school, enroll in college and succeed in college. So that’s where our focus is,” says Cameron Carr-Calvert, director of Upward Bound at Western Kentucky University. 

“But we also see a huge amount of social development in our students. As they progress through the program, they express confidence in themselves,” Carr-Calvert adds. “There’s a self-esteem boost and an ability to navigate different social situations. Students often tout those things as some of the biggest benefits of the program.”

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