Upward Bound teaches high school students life lessons

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Joe Schwartz

Weeding flower beds, cleaning fish pools, making carrot juice, painting signs and creating flower arrangements of coneflowers, daisies, hydrangea and phlox: These community-service activities engaged high school students in Cornell's Upward Bound program at Hospicare in Ithaca, July 22, and put them in touch with nature, the concept of service and matters of life and death.

"There is so much sadness, I feel like we make a difference making the residents happy," said one high school student from Elmira, N.Y. Noted another, "We're provided for, so it seems like we should do something to help others."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound was created as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" in 1964. Upward Bound brings economically or academically disadvantaged high school students to universities, giving them academic support during their high school years and preparing them to succeed in college.

Launched in 2008, Cornell's Upward Bound program serves 50 students from the Groton Central and Elmira City school districts. They meet with Upward Bound staff and tutors during the school year and study at Cornell each summer until their high school graduation. Their six-week summer residential program includes living in Risley Hall, attending on-campus classes in mathematics, laboratory science, composition and foreign languages, visiting nearby colleges and universities and participating in half a day of community service each week.

Students said they liked living on campus and visiting other colleges and universities most. "It prepares me for the future, for campus life," said one, while another noted, "Seeing other colleges will help me when I make my decision about which college to attend."

The high school students are not the only ones doing the learning, however. Helping in Upward Bound programming are college students who serve as tutor-counselors. This year, four tutor-counselors are from Cornell and one from New York University, with majors as diverse as government, Russian, fashion design, education and industrial and labor relations.

"The students are amazing," said Ettie Nikolova, a Cornell rising senior and now in her third year serving as a tutor-counselor for Upward Bound. "They are so good at their core." Nikolova has worked with Upward Bound students for three years and has enjoyed seeing them grow and mature.

Tutor-counselor Sejin Bai is new to the program, but plans to be a teacher in the future. "I haven't worked with high school students outside the classroom context before. Getting to know what they are thinking -- what bothers them, what they are interested in -- this gives me an understanding that I know will be useful to me in the future," she said.

As for the flower arrangements and carrot juice? The high school students personally distributed them to the Hospicare residents.


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Nancy Doolittle