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WVU program embraces holistic approach to fulfill high school students’ aspirations

The photograph features a teenage student seated at a table doing school work. They are holding a pen in their right hand and writing on a sheet of paper. They are wearing a black and white sweatshirt and have long brown hair.

Paige Loughry, an 11th grade student at Preston High School in Kingwood, is a participant in Upward Bound, an initiative that assists rural, income-eligible and potential first-generation college students with high school graduation and college enrollment. For the first time, the WVU Upward Bound program has embedded counselors at Preston County High this academic year. (WVU Photo)

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A federally funded TRIO program at West Virginia University is working to individualize the student experience and to support the University’s service mission by helping those at the high school level prepare for college.

Serving nearly 1,000 high schoolers since 2007, Upward Bound has successfully assisted rural, income-eligible and potential first-generation college students with high school graduation and college enrollment. More than 75% of the program’s graduates enroll in post-secondary school immediately after high school, beating the national college-going average by nine points and the state average by 25 points.

For the first time, the WVU program is embedded at Preston High School in Kingwood this academic year. Taking a unique approach, Upward Bound counselors work directly in the school every day, granting constant access to the program’s students and helping build meaningful partnerships with school and county personnel.

Like its counterparts across the country, the Preston High School program offers student success services, including one-on-one tutoring, hands-on academic support, academic advising, college and career exploration, test preparation, help with college applications, scholarships and financial aid, social activities, and access to college campuses and coursework.

While favorable results have earned the program nearly $1.5 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound Director Landon Southerly said that performance data only tells a fraction of the story. The real success lies in the program’s individualized and holistic approach.

“Our purpose is just as much about helping students value their self-worth as it is about academic, financial and social support,” Southerly said. “We personalize the Upward Bound experience as much as possible to help students raise their expectations of themselves and what they can accomplish.”

True to its “college-ready” mission, the Upward Bound program leverages partnerships with the University to give students a taste of life on a college campus. Some examples include hosting monthly Saturday programs and a residential summer program on the WVU campus that include activities and workshops with University departments and faculty. The program also works with the Center for Learning, Advising and Student Success High School Access and First-Year Experience programs to create a dual-enrollment Senior Seminar course for college credit that mirrors WVUe 191: First Year Seminar. Participants can also engage in summer research opportunities through partnerships with the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Upward Bound counselor Feagin Jones explained this type of service-delivery model builds stronger relationships and mentorship opportunities.

“It’s special knowing that students feel comfortable coming to us for anything,” Jones said. “Yes, we help them fill out application forms, prepare for math tests or work through writing skills for the next English paper. But many times, it’s personal.”

Kimmy Locy, another Upward Bound counselor, agreed that the program focuses on the whole person. “The best part about my job is working with these amazing teens every day and embracing their raw energy. It’s a reminder to keep things light and give them room to grow, learn and develop while lending that helpful hand when they need it. We are much more than a college access program. We strive to create a sense of family,” Locy said.

Students enter and stay in the program for various reasons. For some, it’s a haven for individual growth or a safe space to cultivate strong relationships.

Four-year Upward Bound student Emily Moreland said she now feels confident raising her hand in class, asking questions and generally feeling more comfortable around people. Seniors Molly Long and Alexius Frazee-King enjoy Upward Bound’s strong sense of community. As they put it, the activities and social events have helped them “come out of their shells” and build closer friendships. High school junior X Johnson agreed, reiterating the Upward Bound community has been an inclusive, accepting and supportive group of friends and staff.

For others, the program is a place for new experiences, and a home for academic, financial and personal support. Paige Loughry and Daquiari Pase are quick to value the social benefits, but they also emphasized the one-on-one assistance through the college application process has reduced stress, boosted their mental health and helped them feel more prepared for college and the future.

“I’m a first-generation college student, and it was nerve-wracking thinking about the college process,” Pase said. “But after taking our senior seminar course and attending the summer program at WVU, it feels like everything is falling into place. I found that I like research and science, which helped me change my mind from becoming a lawyer to studying biochemistry and becoming an anesthesiologist.”

Ninth through 12th grade Preston High School students who meet federal income requirements or who will be the first generation in their family to attend college are eligible to apply. The program is currently accepting applications. Those who are accepted earn monthly stipends for program participation. 

“I would really encourage kids my age to join Upward Bound because the people here really push you to be the best person you can be,” senior Audrieanna Taylor said. “I’ve been in a bunch of similar programs, and this is by far my favorite.”

Southerly said he believes one of the program’s biggest impacts is giving students a place where they can feel supported. “We get to see them grow, push themselves to do better, overcome obstacles, work toward their goals, prepare for college, or whatever their path may be. That’s what Upward Bound is all about,” he said.



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