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Upward Bound Students Fulfill Dream of Higher Education

Upward Bound takes college-material high-schoolers whose chances for higher education are not good and molds them into university students. The 22 Westchester High School students who participated in Loyola Marymount University’s Upward Bound project during their sophomore, junior and senior years went off to college this fall. That’s 100 percent for the academic program in a school district that has been criticized for its graduation rates.

“We are a steady force in their academic lives,” said Norma Romero, who directs Upward Bound at LMU. She noted that this group of Upward Bound students, the first group of Westchester High students to join the program, had been through three principals and five college counselors.

Behind the success of this federally funded program is a team of professionals at LMU, administrators at the high school and parents. The Upward Bound staff supported the high school students with twice-a-week advising sessions at the high school and monthly trips to the LMU campus. The academic enhancement program includes SAT preparation. Romero, Academic Coordinator Shelly Pajka and graduate student tutors from LMU’s School of Education have built a foundation that the students and their parents utilized.

“We were able to give them the experience of higher education,” said Pajka. “One student told us he was headed in a gang direction. He said that Upward Bound opened his eyes to the fact that he was college material.” That student is studying computer engineering at UC Santa Cruz. The other Westchester High students are enrolled at community colleges, state universities and several private institutions for fall 2010.

Established through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Upward Bound, sometimes grouped with Talent Search and Student Support Services as a TRIO program, has more than 900 programs across the country. In 2007, LMU was awarded a four-year $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to administer Upward Bound as a service to the community.

Fifty-four students are enrolled in LMU’s Upward Bound program, Romero said, adding that they are building on the program’s success. “We are working to make LMU Upward Bound a model for other programs,” said Romero.  “Our motto is ‘It’s not just what you learn; it’s who will you become.’ ” It reflects the Jesuit mission of the university. We want our students to know that they are going to get more than tutoring. They are going to think deeper about who they are.”

Romero, who has worked with federal education programs since 1974, points to an example of Upward Bound success that stands for many: A student she worked with in the Occidental College Upward Bound project during the late 1980s at Franklin High School, John Perez, is the current speaker of the state Assembly. 

Posted Dec. 6, 2010