KALAMAZOO, MI – Lower-income, first-generation high school students in southwest Michigan receive “invaluable” academic support from programs like Upward Bound, said Johnny Edwards Jr., director of public schools secondary education by Kalamazoo.
His students at KPS – along with others from Van Buren County’s Hartford, Lawrence, Covert and Bangor school districts – participate in Western Michigan University’s college prep program for first-generation and low-income students. .
The goal of Upward Bound, which accommodates a maximum of 65 students each from the Kalamazoo and Van Buren County programs, is to increase enrollment and graduation rates of disadvantaged students at post-secondary institutions.
Students benefit from tutoring, grade tracking, mentoring, counseling, financial planning for college, career exploration opportunities, and exposure to various college programs and cultural activities on campus and beyond.
WMU’s arm of the national program began in the early 1970s. But a loss of federal funding in 2004 ended the decades-long college preparation program, said Erika Carr, director of the Office of Pre-University Programming. of Western, which is home to programs like Upward Bound.
The program was reinstated in 2007 after the university secured funding again, Carr said.
The program aims to help students overcome obstacles in college. As first-generation students, many need guidance on navigating the higher education system, college applications and financial aid entrance exams, Carr said.
Any opportunity for exposure to college staff, students and programs is helpful for high school students who are unsure of what to do next after graduation, Edwards said.
Beyond college visits and exposure to college programs, its students are offered tutoring, mentoring, and other academic supports while in high school. Edwards described the extra support as âinvaluable gemsâ of great value to the students of the program.
In Kalamazoo public schools, 92% of Upward Bound students graduated in 2020, Carr said. This is compared to the overall graduation rate for the district of about 76%. From the same cohort of students, about 70% enrolled in post-secondary education, she said.
KPS graduates receive tuition assistance up to a full journey to post-secondary education from the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program. But the financial hurdle to getting a degree isn’t the only hurdle for students, Carr said.
Beyond tuition fees, students need funding for room and board, food and books, and face other obstacles to succeed in college as first-generation students and in low income.
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Programs like Upward Bound are “so essential” to help fill these gaps, Carr said.
“This kind of program, I wish we could give it to all the students,” she said.
But Upward Bound’s small stature is also part of what makes him special, Carr said. Students are given “attention intensity” and really get to know their program leaders. Once they’re in the college of their choice, Upward Bound helps them connect to similar programs to keep them engaged.
âI am a one thousand percent believer in programs like this,â said Carr, herself a first-generation college student. “It’s frustrating because sometimes the statistics don’t always reflect how much we think it impacts people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been another obstacle to success for many students, but the program has kept engagement high, even virtually.
âEngagement is really essential, and it’s not as easy to engage with people virtually as it is in person at the level where they can really engage in learning,â Carr said.
The relationships established with participants helped staff stay in touch with students amid the pandemic, and the program returned to an in-person mode as soon as it could, she said.
Education officials know that the pandemic impacted students and their achievements last year, and is likely to continue in the future.
âWhen there was already an achievement gap and there was already inequality, it only worsened that inequity gap for our students,â Carr said.
Related: Major inequalities in Michigan education exposed by pandemic, leaders say there is no turning back
While KPS and other districts have launched their own summer readiness programs to address learning loss during the pandemic, Upward Bound’s six-week summer program will continue this year in a model hybrid to keep kids learning, Carr said.
Starting last week, students take math, English, Spanish, social studies and science classes in a hybrid model that offers both in-person and virtual learning. Students are also offered courses on preparing for the SAT, applying for college, and obtaining financial aid.
Students from KPS and Van Buren County also take part in weekly excursions to places such as museums and adventure camps, as well as university visits.
âOur program isn’t just about recruiting at WMU, it’s about finding the best post-secondary opportunities for each student,â Carr said.
This summer, special attention will be needed to help some students catch up after the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their school year.
Edwards said the WMU had done a good job reaching its students at Kalamazoo public schools, although they were forced to learn virtually during the pandemic. While some children have experienced a learning loss, many are also coming back to school in person with new tech skills and virtual collaboration that they would not have learned without the virtual school experience.
In secret public schools, the program is helping students recover from the pandemic, said Claire Kiss, principal of kindergarten to grade 12.
Van Buren County District typically accommodates 13-14 students per year in the college preparation program. The ability to attend university tours is especially helpful for students in her small rural district, she said.
But, after the COVID-19 pandemic took students out of their traditional schooling this year, Kiss said the Upward Bound program is helping its high school students recoup credits and “bridge the gap” where students may have. suffered a learning loss.
Upward Bound is a national program funded by the federal government through the United States Department of Education. The program grew out of the United States Office of Economic Opportunity and its special programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, after former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964.
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