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Upward Bound continues to promote college education for local high school students

In its forty-second year of operation, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Upward Bound program has afforded more than 1,000 students the opportunity to realize that attending college is an attainable goal. This federally funded program takes students from low-income families in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Lee County public schools and provides them with academic instruction, cultural enrichment opportunities and career education.

Of the students who have graduated from Upward Bound, 90 percent attended colleges and 50 percent earned degrees. 

Beginning in their freshman year of high school, 90 students are recruited for the Upward Bound program each year. Students remain in the program throughout their four years of high school.  Upward Bound’s range of services is three-pronged: Afterschool and Saturday Scholastic Sessions during the school year, a six-week summer enrichment program on the Carolina campus and a Residential Bridge Program the summer following high school graduation. 

Dr. Joseph Green, director of Upward Bound since 2006, says the program focuses heavily on reading comprehension and critical reading skills. For example, every semester, one or two books are chosen that all 90 students and their parents read.  Students then write essays and participate in discussion groups with their parents and teachers. Recently, Upward Bound’s book selections were Tuesdays with Morrie and The Bluest Eye.  The books were chosen to coincide with the students’ attendance at the PlayMakers Repertory Company performance of these plays, where they could see a different interpretation of the text. 

“Our purpose is to help all of our students find success in college, but part of our goal is to teach them how to interact in new environments. Ice skating, horseback riding and going to the theater are all things we do to expose the students to different social and cultural situations so when they enroll in a  university, they have a better grasp of what’s going on around them,” says Green.

During the summer, students participate in a six-week program where they live and take classes on the UNC campus. This enrichment opportunity gives students a head start by teaching fun introductory courses to prepare them for the ones they will take in their upcoming year of high school.

“The month-long summer session was always something to look forward to. It gave me a real sense of independence and confidence. Having the opportunity to be away from home and live on a huge college campus like UNC while still in high school was one of the greatest experiences that I could have imagined,” says Phillip Scotton, current freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill and an Upward Bound alumnus.

In addition, first- and second-year students are paired with a research mentor who guides them in conducting a research project. Project topics have ranged from slavery in the Caribbean to the physics of cheerleading. The research project ends with an academic symposium at the end of the summer where students present their findings on posters. It is a bit of a competition as the top five are selected to enter a state competition.

Every Friday in the summer, students travel around the state and the country to visit colleges. Students are exposed to a variety of colleges from Ivy League schools to community colleges. Upward Bound offers an expanded trip for all rising seniors where they travel outside of the state to a large city. In the past, students visited New York City, toured Columbia University, saw The Statue of Liberty and went to a Broadway show. 

“Upward Bound has been more than just a great experience for me. I can honestly say that without it, I would not be thinking about which college I am going to attend. When Ms. Teresa [Cerrato, an Upward Bound academic advisor] visits my school once a week to check our progress, it makes me feel like someone really cares about me and my future,” says India Johnson, a student at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, N.C. and a participant in Upward Bound.

After high school graduation, students can participate in Upward Bound’s Bridge Residential Academy. This six-week residential program is specifically designed to prepare them for collegiate experiences. Bridge students enroll in college courses at UNC-Chapel Hill and participate in workshops and seminars. 

Students who have graduated from Upward Bound have gone on to study at colleges such as UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and Howard University. Upward Bound staff members continue to monitor the progress of their graduates while they are attending colleges and universities.

“Upward Bound is not just a program that helps you through high school then forgets you,” says Scotton. “The program strives to maintain a working relationship with all the students who have graduated.”  

Graduates often return to Upward Bound to serve as volunteers or as summer employees. Some become part of a network of adults and community members who serve as mentors to help currently enrolled Upward Bound students reach their academic, career and personal goals.

After receiving their undergraduate degrees, many Upward Bound graduates have continued on to earn doctoral degrees in preparation for their chosen professions. Graduates of Upward Bound are now pursuing successful careers in fields such as banking and finance, government, computer science, medicine and higher education.