Some high school students focus their attention on typical teenage concerns: homework, friends, prom dates. And other high school students focus their attention on the future—and have their eyes on the prize: college. It is these students who begin preparing for the college application process as early as possible. And that’s where Upward Bound comes into play.
With a grant given to BMCC from the U.S. Department of Education, BMCC supports Upward Bound, a program that helps high school students prepare for, and graduate from, college.
Specifically, Upward Bound encourages high school students who are potential first generation college students and/or from low-income backgrounds to graduate high school and enter and succeed in college. Students are selected for the program based on need, and usually begin Upward Bound in the ninth grade.
BMCC provides Upward Bound services to seven local high schools: Academy of Environmental Science High School, East Side Community High School, High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Louis D. Brandeis High school, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School and Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers.
The high school students receive academic and career counseling, tutoring, exposure to college and university cultural events, and educational programs for students with limited proficiency in English. They also enroll in college preparatory courses.
During the academic year, Upward Bound participants come to BMCC after school from 4-6 pm and sometimes on Saturdays from 10 am to 1pm. Most of their classes are at the Murray St. building.
“An academic year consists of mathematics, English, foreign language, science and history workshops as well as learning enrichment,” says Antonette McKain, Director of the Upward Bound Project at BMCC.
“Participants also attend cultural events, field trips, workshops, seminars and engage in community service.”BMCC also hosts a six-week Upward Bound summer program where every Monday through Wednesday participants take classes in financial management, college prep and composition and literature. According to McKain, Thursdays are reserved for excursions.
From NYC to D.C.
Tamia Burkett and José Moreno are recent graduates of the Upward Bound Project at BMCC. They graduated from high school this June, and will enroll in college this fall and summer, respectively.
Burkett will be a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and Moreno will be attending Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY.
Burkett first enrolled in Upward Bound when she was a ninth grader at Murry Bergtraum High School High School in lower Manhattan. “I liked that Upward Bound took us on college tours, helped with applications, SATs, ACTs and also provided extra tutoring.”
What attracted Burkett to George Washington University (GW) was its offering of the exact major she was seeking. Burkett plans to study athletic training, and GW has a certified athletic trainer program. “I’ve always loved sports, but I also like biology,” she explains. “So I researched both physical therapy and personal athletic training. As an athletic trainer, you work with the athletes hands-on and teach them how to prevent injuries.”
Burkett never heard of George Washington University before she enrolled in the Upward Bound program—which is one of the perks of touring various colleges. “I also liked that GW was so green. They have a wellness center on-campus that offers a variety of different, healthy foods."
An aspiring journalist
Moreno, a graduate of East Side Community High School, heard about Upward Bound from his ninth grade humanities teacher, who encouraged Moreno to consider all the perks the program offered, such as tutoring and college preparation.
“Initially, I was intimidated to apply to such a big school, and struggled with confidence,” he recalls. “I was always so worried and stressed about my grades. But Antonette (McKain) told me not to short-change myself and apply to Syracuse. So, I did more research on the school and applied through HEOP.”
Open to residents of New York State, HEOP—an acronym for The Higher Education Opportunity Program—provides economically and educationally disadvantaged residents the possibility of a college education. The success these students have depends on the academic and supportive services HEOP programs provide and the financial aid assistance that makes attending college a reality.
How to excel in Upward Bound
According to McKain, acting on advice given to them and following through, despite their anxieties or insecurities, allowed Burkett and Moreno to excel in Upward Bound. “One salient piece of advice was to invest time and energy in applying for scholarships, and this really paid off for both of them,” she said.
Burkett was awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Millennium scholarships can be used to pursue degrees in any undergraduate major at the college or university of the recipient’s choice. (The Gates goes until a terminal degree.)
Moreno received The Seinfeld Scholarship. In 2000, actor/comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his family established The Seinfeld Scholarship, facilitated by the PENCIL organization. These 4-year scholarships help New York City public school graduates attend the college of their choice.
Moreno says this was the perfect scholarship for him, since he’s a big fan of actor/comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
The confidence to succeed
Burkett credits the Upward Bound program for helping her “come out of her shell.” “I felt myself grow through the program. I used to be very shy, but now I’m more outgoing and have more confidence in myself,” she says. “And I’m more social.”
Even though Burkett and Moreno admit it was a struggle at times to balance homework with Upward Bound, they agree it’s “worth it in the long run on a personal and educational level.”
Burkett calls McKain her “biggest influence.” “She showed me how to be more responsible and pushed me to believe in myself. And the workshop leaders helped me strengthen my math and science skills.”
Upward Bound brought together students from local high schools who shared the same mission: to complete the program successfully, with confidence and with a college acceptance enrollment. “Someone in the program always has confidence in you,” added Moreno. “Initially, I was surprised by how comfortable the other Upward Bound students were with each other. Seniors and Juniors would mingle with, and advise, the freshman and sophomores in the program.”
Moreno’s interest in journalism stemmed from a newsletter course he took at Upward Bound. “I worked on the Upward Bound newsletter, Voices of the Future. Our instructor really encouraged us to come up with ideas and showed us how to edit,” said Moreno. “And we’d read and analyze The New York Times.”
Also a contributor to his high school newspaper, Moreno felt “proud” to see his name in print.
Preparing for the fall
Burkett found out she was accepted to GW the day before her birthday. “The school was going to post the acceptances online at 5:30 that day, and at 5:29 I logged online and was ready. It felt so great to see: Congratulations!”
McKain and Moreno encouraged Burkett to apply to GW all along, especially when she started doubting herself. “They kept saying, ‘Just apply. You never know…and they were right’.”
Moreno was emailed his acceptance and congrats from Syracuse University. “I was in disbelief; I couldn’t believe it.”
Although Burkett and Moreno are ready—and very excited—to attend college in the fall, they admit leaving New York City and the Upward Bound program will be bittersweet. And they’re not the only ones who are feeling a bit sad about moving on—McKain will also miss working so closely with them.
“Meeting someone at 14 and knowing that you have assisted them in attaining not only their dream of going to college, but also of being a gainfully employed, civic-minded college graduate is indescribable,” says McKain.
“The Upward Bound bond is so strong that our alumni continue to visit, call and email 10 years later.”Burkett agrees. “I tell younger high school students they can contact me anytime with any issues or questions they may have—about the program, exams or life in general.”
Surprised by the number of students at her high school who congratulated her on her acceptance to GW, Burkett says she never realized “so many students looked up to me and said they were so happy for me.”
Before deciding to enroll in the program, Moreno received additional information about Upward Bound from an Upward Bound alum who is currently enrolled at Marist College.
“Without Upward Bound I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he says. “I’ll forever take what I learned with me.”
Note: Upward Bound is a federally funded educational program within the United States. The program is one of a cluster of programs referred to as TRIO, all of which owe their existence to the federal Higher Education Act of 1965. Upward Bound programs are implemented and monitored by the United States Department of Education.