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Area high schoolers are Upward Bound

Most teens would likely prefer anything else to spending their summer bolstering their qualifications for college. But for 28 high school students in Cornell’s Upward Bound summer program, a six-week session on the Ithaca campus, this was one more step in their path to a college education.

In Upward Bound, high school-aged students take four classes – science, math, English and a foreign language – as well as a college prep class. They spend the first two weeks living on campus, then commute for the remaining weeks.

But it’s not all academics – students make college visits and take field trips to local attractions and far-flung places. “We try to take one big trip per year,” explained program director Jen Rudolph, noting past visits to San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and a camping trip to the Alleghany Mountains in Pennsylvania.

The students also perform community service during the summer session. “A group of students self-selects to participate in the Day of Service Planning Committee; these students generate ideas, work through logistics and plan our community service project,” Rudolph explained.

“This summer one of our students rallied the group to provide a day of service for the Webbs Mills Volunteer Fire Co. – of which she is a member. The group helped clean the firehouse and washed trucks and equipment. After their work some of the volunteer fire fighters gave a presentation about their experiences and shared their drive and commitment for the work, which was pretty powerful,” Rudolph said.

Founded in 1964, Upward Bound is a federally funded, free college preparatory program for qualifying students to help them “develop the skills and motivation necessary to ensure their high school graduation, college enrollment and success in pursuing a higher education.” It’s one of eight federal TRiO programs, which are “outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Cornell’s Upward Bound program started in 2007, and since 2012 has served 63 students at five area high schools – Elmira Free Academy, Groton High School, Newfield High School, Elmira Southside High School and Spencer-Van Etten High School – each year. Students attend weekly tutoring sessions with Cornell students, meet twice a month to discuss their academic progress and participate in a monthly workshop.

“We start with these kids in ninth grade and continue through their senior year, so by the time they graduate, we’ve been a pretty significant part of their lives,” Rudolph said.

Crystal Townsend, of Elmira, has seen two of her daughters participate in Upward Bound. “It’s really been a growing experience for us as a family and for them individually,” she said. “The staff is phenomenal. They’ve become part of our extended family in the four years we’ve been with them.”

Serenity Townsend, who graduated from Elmira Southside in May, will attend SUNY Potsdam this fall to study chemistry. “My favorite part of this whole thing was being able to go places,” she said. “When you’re from a low-income family you don’t have the opportunities to travel, but with this program I went to San Francisco.”

Brian Martinez, a rising junior at Spencer-Van Etten High School, enjoyed his Upward Bound experience this summer. “It was absolutely great,” he said. “The on-campus stay was fun and a new experience. The hardest part was probably the classes, but I made it through with the help of the TCs (tutor counselors) and everyone else.”

Said Martinez’s mother, Rose Martinez of Spencer: “It gives kids exposure and a vision to see outside of their little world of high school and get the bigger picture. The kids sometimes just see what’s in front of them.”

Jim Catalano is a writer for Student and Academic Services.

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Joe Schwartz