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Upward Bound immerses high schoolers in college life

Riverside Military Academy chemistry teacher Brandon Forest explains a science concept to Gilmer High School students Jorge Garcia, left, and Angel Guidry. The students participated in the Upward Bound summer session on the University of North Georgia's Dahlonega Campus. The Upward Bound program is a federally funded grant designed to help promising low-income, first-generation high school students prepare for and be successful in college.

While some high school students spent their summer working at a job, vacationing with family or hanging out with friends, 60 rising sophomores through seniors from Hall and Gilmer counties immersed themselves in the college life at the University of North Georgia (UNG).

The summer experience is part of the Upward Bound program, a federally funded grant designed to help promising low-income, first-generation high school students prepare for and be successful in college. During the school year, students receive weekly tutoring sessions, ACT and college preparation sessions, career exploration, cultural experiences, and college visits. But during the summer, the students got the full college experience.

"We wake them up at 6 a.m. and send them to bed at 11 p.m.," said Dr. N. Latrice Richardson, director of the Upward Bound programs at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia, and Gilmer High School in Ellijay, Georgia.

Academics in the science, technology, engineering, and math filled the students' mornings, as well as English and a foreign language. Some of the instructors were UNG alumni as well as high school teachers, including Brandon Forrest, a chemistry teacher at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville.

"I love it," he said between his chemistry and biology classes in the Health and Natural Sciences building on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. "I would like to have more time with them and do more labs to reinforce the different concepts."

Richardson said the endeavor helped diminish the "summer melt" of knowledge from one grade to another. The students had study time in the afternoon to help them digest the concepts from the morning session. They also participated in a public speaking course and learned about financial literacy.

"We wanted to teach them about money management," Richardson said. "We wanted to teach them about good credit, bad credit, debt, and student loans. You name it and we covered it."

  • Kaden Reece, a 15-year-old sophomore from Gilmer High School, cuts artificial cytoplasm in a biology class during the Upward Bound program at UNG.

Ushering the students through the day were their residential advisers, and some were UNG students. The advisers or tutor counselors spent time with the high school students in the evening to offer help of any kind. Three of the residential advisers shared much in common with the students, because they are McNair Scholars.

McNair Scholars are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate education, such as African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Pacific Islander, who have shown strong academic potential. The program identifies and prepares them for post-graduate studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

Thomas Hayes, a rising junior majoring in computer information systems, was one of the counselors during the Upward Bound summer program and a McNair Scholar. The 27-year-old from Suwanee, Georgia, said his focus was to keep things in perspective for the high schoolers.

"I tried to keep them looking at the whole experience and letting them know it's a step-by-step process," Hayes said. "It's not one big step to college. There are multiple steps. And if you look at each individual step, you won't get overwhelmed with the path of attending college and graduating."

Hayes also believed he would stay in touch with the high school students because of the relationships they formed.

Johnson High School junior John Robles agreed.

"I've met people who've gone through tough times," the 16-year-old said. "Hearing them being so open about it made me feel more connected."

Aaliyah Adame, a 17-year-old rising senior at Gilmer High School, planned to use the summer experience and fall program as a way to get into college.

"It's going to help me with the SAT and ACT prep," she said, adding she is dual-enrolled in college classes. "And it will give me more options and accessibility."

 Adame also immersed herself in the college adventure.

"It's an opportunity that you don't get every day," she said. "It's new, and to experience it is a new feeling."

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