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Helping High School Students Become ‘Upward Bound’

Federally Funded Program Helps Students Fulfill Educational Dreams
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For nearly 25 years, Cal State Fullerton’s Upward Bound program has been providing support, encouragement and programming to help low-income, potential first-generation college students  graduate from high school and gain admission to a college or university.

This year, the program will expand to include not only Valley, Saddleback, Century and Santa Ana high schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District, but also Fullerton Union and Savanna high schools. The efforts have received first-year funding of $373,118 and $257,497 respectively, of two five-year U.S. Department of Education grants.

“We’re very excited to be able to continue and expand our services to help students who may never have considered that they had the opportunity to go to college,” says Victor Rojas, director of Upward Bound at CSUF. “We have seen over and over again the value and worth of our efforts in the number of students who are able to dream and aspire to college and beyond. Since 2012, 92 percent of our students have graduated from high school and gone on to college.”

One such student is Aileen Navarrete, who graduated from Century High School in 2015 and currently is a junior studying neurobiology at Harvard University.

“Upward Bound was a program that positively impacted my high school experience,” Navarrete says. “Through the positive youth development, mentorship, workshops focused on post-secondary education, I felt support in the college admissions process.”

“The relationships I formed were the most meaningful part of Upward Bound,” added Navarrete, who would like to attend medical school and serve in her community. “The staff cared about everyone on an individual basis and always encouraged us to reach our highest potential.”

Since 1992, Upward Bound has offered wide-ranging services, including academic tutoring, advice and assistance, financial planning, instruction in core curriculum, possible dual high school and college enrollment and exposure to academic programs, work study, career advisement and cultural events. The program begins with incoming ninth-grade students and continues through high school.

A six-week summer enrichment program “offers students the opportunity to experience life, how to balance a challenging course load with the new experience of living in residence halls,” explains Rojas. The summer program provides special courses, leadership training and additional tutoring. It even has students participating in college-level research.

To be eligible for the program, students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents; at least 13 years of age and have graduated from the eighth grade. In addition they must hold a minimum 2.5 GPA and meet federal income eligibility requirements. As Upward Bound students, they attend:

  • weekly after-school tutoring sessions at their high schools;
  • attend twice month Saturday Academy sessions that offer supplemental instruction in English, science and math, as well as workshops in study skills and time management and additional tutoring if needed;
  • work with an academic adviser who guides them on appropriate courses to enter college, preparation for ACT or SAT tests and applications for scholarships and financial aid; and
  • explore various systems of higher education, ranging from community colleges, the California State University and University of California systems and private colleges.

“Our whole program is geared to giving them the opportunity and means to dream big, to understand that graduating high school, attending college and earning a college degree is possible and within their reach,” says Rojas. “If they want it, we’re there to help support them to make it a reality.”