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Upward Bound program gives boost to high school students

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July 13, 2017

By Mike Killeen

Politicians, economists and sociologists might argue the point, but Ben Shapiro thinks he knows the answer to an age-old question.

“The thought that I’ve always had is that one of the best ways out of poverty is education,” Shapiro said.

Image of Upward Bound participantsHe should know. As director of the Upward Bound program at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, Shapiro leads a pre-college program serving first generation and/or income eligible students in gaining college access and — ultimately — a college degree.

And, thanks to a recent $1,482,585 grant to CSB from the U.S. Department of Education, the Upward Bound program at CSB and SJU will continue to provide tutoring, counseling, mentoring programs, assistance with financial aid and help with college selection for five years. The Upward Bound program at CSB and SJU is 100 percent federally funded.  

Through July 20, approximately 30 students in grades 9-12 from four area high schools — St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Technical, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Willmar — spend five days a week on the CSB campus taking classes and making field trips.

“The students take a curriculum in mathematics, a lab science — it could be biology or chemistry — a foreign language and English classes,” Shapiro said, noting that the classes are taught by high school teachers. “They take those classes in the morning, and then eat lunch on campus.

“We have some more fun elective-type classes they can take in the afternoon,” he added. Recent offerings have included college cooking tips, TED talks, ACT preparation and outdoor games.

On Wednesdays, the group takes field trips to colleges, businesses and cultural events. A recent Wednesday trip in late June had students visiting the print site of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper, and a tour and a play performance at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. They also visited Duluth in early July.

The program continues into the school year. A total of 64 students will be involved at the four area high schools.

Program advisers Shelley Gemza (Apollo and Willmar) and Chris Young (Tech and Sauk Rapids-Rice) visit their schools on a weekly basis to provide counseling. Tutors – students from CSB and SJU – are also provided for the high school students.

For five Saturdays during the academic year, sessions are also held at CSB for different college preparation programs.

Shapiro says the program tries to push to get students to attend a four-year college. They just can’t recruit specifically for any one (or two) schools.

“We can’t be using Upward Bound to recruit for the college,” Shapiro said. “But, we do get one or two (students) every once and a while that end up coming here, because they’re comfortable here.”

Upward Bound is one of eight federal grant programs collectively known as “TRIO” that motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their pursuit of a college degree. It was established by the federal Higher Education Act of 1965.

The program began at CSB and SJU in 1995, and has served approximately 450 students. Graduates of the program from 2015 are currently attending CSB, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud Technical and Community College, the University of Minnesota-Morris, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Alexandria Technical and Community College and Ridgewater College.

There are some 2,800 TRIO programs nationally that serve approximately 828,000 students.

Shapiro said that the percentage of low income, first generation students who graduate from college within six years is about 11 percent. “Upward Bound programs around the nation, including ours, are nearing a 50 percent mark,” he added.