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School program takes students to new heights

WMHS Upward Bound Ropes course

Upward Bound students work on their team bulilding skills. Photos by Kathy Hansen

Upward Bound students work on their team bulilding skills. Photos by Kathy Hansen

By Carolyn Marnon – The Wayne-Westland Community School District has the only high school in the United States that administers the Upward Bound program.  All other programs happen to be administered by colleges and universities. Although applications have been made for both Wayne Memorial High School and John Glenn High School for this program for years, Wayne has been the only high school to be awarded the Upward Bound grant that is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program is designed to assist, encourage, and motivate students who have the potential and desire to continue their education beyond high school. It also gives them opportunities and experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The federal Upward Bound program has been in existence for 50 years. There are areas of the United States where education isn’t equitable.   Students from at-risk families don’t know how to break out of the cycle that has kept their family down.  Upward Bound shows them how to do things.  Financial literacy is part of the Wayne program. It’s important to show students that they have talents and the ability to go to college and make a better life for themselves.
To be eligible for the program, a student must be a first generation college student (meaning neither parent has a four-year degree) and/or be from a family of financial need. At Wayne Memorial, they must have completed 9th grade at Wayne and have the potential for success in an accelerated curriculum.
On Friday, January 29, only 20 students were accepted into the program from an initial interest of 120 students.  Heather Brescol, Executive Director of Wayne’s Upward Bound, had 120 9th grade students indicate they were interested in the program.  Of those, only 100 came to the informational meeting that was held.  The next step was to write an essay; 85 essays were turned in.  Next came the application; only 50 were turned in.  From here, personal interviews were held with those 50 students.  A selection committee made up of counselors, teachers, board office members and the Upward Bound staff, go over everything: the essays, student goals, grades, attendance and behavior, to determine who they want to invite to the program.
The grant given to Wayne Memorial limits the program to 85 kids.  How many get in each year depends on how many seniors graduate.  Although students in grades 9, 10 and 11 can apply, preference is given to the freshmen who will be sophomores.
This is Heather’s 2nd year as director of the program.  Before this, she was an alternative high school counselor.  She applied to be director because she had experience with at-risk youth.
The Upward Bound program began at Wayne Memorial in the 1980s. It has continued every year since.  Each grant received covers 5 years. To continue with the grant, a program must show it has been successful. When the grant started, the success standard was sending 95% of the program members to college. Now to be considered a success, a student must graduate from college within 6 years of graduating high school.  Heather is required to keep track of students for seven years after they leave Wayne Memorial.  The current grant expires in 2017.  Heather will be applying for and hoping they will get another 5 year grant at that time.
Students in the program do different things, based on what year they are in.  The rising sophomores focus on natural sciences.  They learn teamwork through a ropes course. Upward Bound has a partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Students go to the DNR conference center in Roscommon and learn fish shocking, archery, animal tracking and take a canoe trip. Rising juniors research colleges to apply to and write admission essays.  They also do job-shadowing.  Heather says it’s a great way for students to learn more about what happens at a job.  This can be helpful because many times, a student may not know what a job really entails and can find out that maybe what they wanted to do is not what they thought. To “know what they don’t want to do is better,” says Heather.  Rising seniors learn about careers, take college classes and apply to colleges.
Eight college visits are planned each year. It is good for the students to set foot on college campuses and get a feel for the college. This is much better than coming in as a college freshman never having been to the college.  All students must attend a 6-week mandatory enrichment program in the summer.  They then go on one trip a month during the school year. These trips are planned by the students to teach them there is more to going on a trip than just hopping on a plane or in a car.
Each year, the senior students plan a trip to DisneyWorld.  However, not all of them end up getting to go.  There are qualifications to meet.  The senior must have completed 4 hours of community service every month, gotten good grades and have not missed school more than the school board policy for attendance states.  The trip is 4 days, 3 nights.  As airfare has risen over the past five years, the students now have to do some fundraising to make up the gap in funding.  Upcoming fundraisers include a night at Buffalo Wild Wings on February 24 (dine and mention you are with Upward Bound and a percentage of sales goes to the program), a bowling night at Town and Country Bowling on March 4 and a night at Texas Roadhouse on March 23. The 85 students who are part of Upward Bound are “my students,” says Heather. She is responsible for these 85.  She compares this to the 330 students a counselor is responsible for and the 180 students a teacher is responsible for.  She has continuity each year and gets to see her students grow. They are a team. Also part of that team are Kathy Hansen, Program Assistant and Dan Cobello, Teacher.
February 27 is a day of service for Upward Bound programs.  The students from Wayne Memorial will be having a contest with students from other local programs to see who can collect the most water as part of a water drive benefitting the citizens of Flint. You can donate water at Sam’s Club in Canton on that day to help.

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