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Upward Bound students learn about college life and community engagement in 2016 summer session

upward bound group photo

WVU Tech’s Upward Bound program has been in operation for more than five decades. The federally funded TRIO program keeps high school students engaged throughout the school year and culminates in a six-week, on-campus summer program.

This year’s summer class includes more than 40 students from Clay County High School, Riverside High School in Kanawha County and all five high schools in Fayette County.

During the program, students take a series of core classes – science, math, reading and language arts, literature, history and foreign language – and are able to choose electives in fields ranging from healthy eating and personal finance to geocaching and theater.

“Classes are all about enrichment. They’re not remedial. This is designed to engage these students and keep them focused academically,” said Jennifer Bunner, director of the Upward Bound program at WVU Tech.

Students vote on a theme for each summer program. Last year’s theme was super heroes. This year, students swapped their capes for cloaks in favor of a Harry Potter theme for the session.

Elements of J.K. Rowling’s popular series were woven into the entire session experience. Invitations were delivered by owl (in the form of a puppet), students were divided into “houses,” classwork incorporated themes from the story and students even competed in a Quidditch tournament on Martin Field.

Students also participated in a number of outings. They explored Charleston and Beckley. They rode an Amtrak train into White Sulphur Springs, visited Lost World caverns and attended a showing of Theatre West Virginia’s “Hatfields and McCoys” at the Grandview Cliffside Amphitheatre.

Jacob Rogers, 16, will start his senior year at Riverside High School in the fall. This is his second year in the program, and he said he came back for the atmosphere and activities.

students playing human knot game
Students play the human knot game while waiting for the train to White Sulphur Springs.

“It feels like a family here. Everyone here is really accepting and loving. We’ve been doing a lot of activities and taking a lot of great trips. It’s been really fun this year,” he said.

The group also toured West Liberty University, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic medicine in Lewisburg and WVU Tech’s Beckley campus. Students also traveled to West Virginia University’s campus in Morgantown to participate in the Upward Bound Olympics.

“I want to attend college,” said Rogers. “I think that’s why Upward Bound is so great. It gives me options that I can explore and decide how I want to go about doing it. I want to help people, whatever I do, so seeing different schools and programs where I can do that was nice.”

Megan Yeager, of Belle, West Virginia, said she appreciates the program’s non-competitive learning environment.

“Part of the reason I love it so much is because there’s no push to be the best. It’s stress-free and you can focus on what you want to,” she said.

The 16-year-old said Upward Bound has also been a confidence booster.

“The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that to really be comfortable in a place, you have to talk to people. I feel like this year I’m more comfortable with who I am and I think that experience will let me help other people in the program,” she said.

students enjoying formal night dinner
Upward Bound students enjoy a meal during the program’s formal banquet and ball.

For Bunner, that atmosphere is crucial to the summer program’s goals.

“It prepares them to leave home and to be comfortable in that situation. They’re staying in the residence halls, they have a roommate, they have to keep their own schedules and make it to classes on time. They have to be independent, living on their own like the real college experience,” she said.

Another important aspect of the summer session involves community engagement. Bunner said that includes everything from exploring the community’s businesses and entertainment to volunteering for community service projects.

“I want them to think about becoming engaged in those communities. There are organizations and causes in those communities that they can be a part of, and if they can learn how to find those opportunities, they’ll be comfortable seeking them out when they’re out in the real world” said Bunner.

Students took that engagement mentality to heart in late June. When Southern West Virginia was devastated by historically severe flooding, students turned their attention to helping in any way they could.

They spent one Friday night packing toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, diapers and nonperishable food items into grocery bags.

students pack meals for flood victims
Students pack ready-to-eat meals after flooding devastated parts of Southern West Virginia.

The next day, students delivered items to two shelters in Ansted, West Virginia, where hundreds of displaced families were staying. Students entertained children at the shelters with face painting, sidewalk chalk and Frisbee games. They helped distribute meals, clean up at the shelters and take care of pets.

“They were touched and they really stepped up to do what they could for these people,” said Bunner.

“They visited with people and spent time with them. Listened to their stories. One student was so moved that she donated some of her own clothes that she brought to campus. The whole group pulled together, and it was wonderful to see,” she said.

The group wrapped up their campus stay with an awards ceremony on Friday, July 8. Family members joined Upward Bound students to hear about their experiences during the first five weeks of the program.

Smithers resident Scott Wills said Upward Bound has had a positive impact on David, his youngest son. David, 17, is heading into his senior year of high school and has been in the program since he was a freshman.

“He loves the program. He talks about it all the time. It encourages him to better himself, to do better. It’s helped him a lot along the way. I’ve seen how it’s helped some of his friends, too,” said Wills. “That is something I know he’ll never forget.”

The summer program includes a travel week. Next week, the group is heading to New England.

Students will tour Fairfield University in Connecticut; visit an art museum in Providence, Rhode Island; walk the Freedom Trail in Boston; visit the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; tour lighthouses along the coast of Maine; and visit a water park in Lincoln, New Hampshire. On their trip north, the group will also visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia.

Yeager said she’s looking forward to the trip, and that she would recommend the Upward Bound experience to other students.

“That’s what I would tell people about Upward Bound. It’s really worth it. If you’re considering it, do it,” she said.

For more information on Upward Bound, visit  techupwardbound.wvutech.edu. View photos from Upward Bound on  Flickr.