Raven Ware intends to join the FBI. Standing a tall five-foot-five, she seems modest for her accomplishments and wise for her age. Although only a sophomore at College of Charleston, Ware exudes a sense of dedication and focus rare among college students.
Ware owes her strong sense of self in part to a program she joined five years ago while a sophomore at Burke High School – Upward Bound.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Upward Bound, which, since its implementation at the College of Charleston in 1975, has seen over 700 students like Ware successfully graduate from local high schools and enroll in college.
Upward Bound is part of TRIO, an umbrella program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that creates opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. TRIO programs span from middle school to post-baccalaureate, helping students progress through an educational pipeline.
Upward Bound specifically assists students graduate from high school, get accepted to college and find scholarships that make college affordable. The program housed by College of Charleston offers bi-monthly tutoring sessions on Saturday mornings, college tours three times per year, SAT/ACT prep classes and test and application fee waivers. In addition, they offer a six-week summer program where students live in dorms at the College, take a college class, participate in a servant-leadership volunteer activity and go on college tours. This year, they will go to Florida and Louisiana, stopping to tour Florida State, Florida A&M, Xavier University of Louisiana, Tulane University, Louisiana State University and Southern Louisiana University – all at no cost to the students.
The program at College of Charleston currently assists 94 students from five area high schools: Burke, St. John’s, North Charleston, R.B. Stall and West Ashley. In order to qualify for the program, students must come from low-income backgrounds or be first-generation college students, which means that neither parent received a bachelor’s degree.
“Our job in a nutshell is taking students who have potential but need to be pushed a little bit so they can be successful in high school, going from B’s to A’s, graduating from high school on time from schools that typically don’t graduate a lot of students on time and then seeing them as they go off to college,” Upward Bound director Talim Lessane said.
The program does not end after high school graduation, though. Upward Bound students are tracked for up to ten years, from the time they first join the program in 9th, 10th or 11th grade to the time they finish their bachelor’s degree, which they are allotted six years to complete. “We don’t let them go,” Lessane said. “There’s no such thing as ‘was’ [in Upward Bound].”
Ashley Robinson, academic coordinator for Upward Bound, knows first-hand that Upward Bound lasts far longer than high school and can attest to the truth of this statement. An Upward Bound graduate herself, Robinson attended University of South Carolina where she joined another TRIO program, Student Support Services, which helps students transition to college. After graduating from college, she started working for a TRIO program at University of South Carolina before taking her current job.
“For me – it’s life,” Robinson said. “I’ve come full circle. I’m a product of the program and now I’m giving back to it.”
In fact, Lessane is the only person in his office who did not graduate from a TRIO program. Academic school counselor Franchell Smalls graduated from a TRIO program at Burke High School and office manager Muhammad Rasheed graduated from Upward Bound in 2002.
Perhaps the staff’s personal experiences with Upward Bound contribute to the program’s personal touch. “Each and every counselor wants to see us succeed and they’ll do whatever it takes to help us get there,” said Nick Hannah, a current Upward Bound student and senior at R.B. Stall High School. “They take time out of their busy lives to help us in our academics because they know how important an education really is.”
Hannah first heard about Upward Bound through an assembly during his sophomore year of high school. Inspired by the speakers, he grabbed an application on his way out. “That very action opened a lot of doors in my future,” he said.
After joining the program, Hannah started attending the Saturday tutoring sessions, which are led by paid teachers and volunteers, and going on college tours. Listed among his hobbies of playing sports, drawing and listening to music, he now includes studying. Next fall, he will attend Clemson University to study architecture.
If Ware’s experience is any indication, Hannah will do well when he transitions to college. “Being in the Upward Bound definitely prepared me for college,” Ware said. “As far as study habits, time management, social skills, a little bit of everything is involved.”
And by everything, Ware refers to much more than academic support. Through Upward Bound, she was exposed to many “firsts”: her first play, first dance class, first volunteer experience, first Cuban restaurant. “They have exposed me to a lot of things that I would not have been exposed to had I not been in this program,” she said.
As great as Upward Bound has been for its graduates, Lessane and Robinson hope that one day nobody else will need the assistance. “Ideally our job is to work ourselves out of a job,” Lessane said, “but the fact is, there’s always going to be somebody else whose parents didn’t go to college or went but didn’t finish.”
So where do they see the program in another 40 years? “Still here,” Lessane said, but not serving the families of students they are currently serving because, unlike their parents, they will be college graduates. “The program ideally will still be here serving students who are trying to make something of themselves and take their lives seriously enough to take initiative.”
This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of The Yard.