Teens ‘bound’ for success

By Craig Coleman
Polk County Itemizer-Observer

MONMOUTH — Courtney Dumond had a full morning of physics, pre-calculus and anatomy classes on Thursday at Western Oregon University. In the afternoon, she was at Salem Hospital for her internship.

The 17-year-old Dallas High student returned to campus for dinner, study hall and team-building activities — and then maybe some free time.

When Dumond decided to enroll in Upward Bound three years ago as a freshman, she worried about annually having to sacrifice half her summers for school work and college prep activities.

And missing out on lazy days with her friends.

“It is really busy from the time you wake up until lights out at 11 p.m.,” she said. “It’s all tiring … but in a good way.”

Dumond is one of more than 40students from Polk County and Salem who’ve been living on the Western campus since early June, spending their vacation hitting the books and doing college and career exploration as part of Upward Bound.

“It’s hard, but at the same time, this really helps us out,” said Linh Nguyen, a student from McKay High. “I think it gives us a better head start … we know more now.”

Upward Bound is a federally-funded initiative that began in 1965 and is geared toward putting low-income, first generation or at-risk youths on the path to a college education.

Enrollees receive weekly tutoring to help with math, English and science. The summer program, meanwhile, entails a month-and-a-half of introductory college courses, writing scholarship essays and demystifying the transition from high school to college.

Western’s Upward Bound serves up to 50students every year from Central and Dallas high schools and McKay High School in Salem. All senior enrollees earned their high school diplomas in 2011 and 2012. And 90 percent of the 2011 cohort went on to college, said Shondra Russell, program director.

Russell said Upward Bound has evolved in recent years with more emphasis on covering the cost of higher education — there are workshops on credit card use, budgeting for college and investing.

“Financial literacy has become a big component for us,” she said.

Another is work placement. High school seniors have been working as interns in places such as Polk Soil and Water Conservation District and Haugen’s Galleri in Monmouth.

It’s not all work. Students have also been touring different private and public universities around the state. Last week, they participated in a gourmet cooking class in Dallas with several local Upward Bound alumni.

One was Anel Venegas, a 2011 Central High graduate. Grades weren’t an issue in high school, but knowledge of how to navigate college and scholarship applications were, said Venegas, who’s now attending Willamette University.

“My parents didn’t know English or anything about college at all,” Venegas said. “This made it easier for me to know what I’m supposed to do.”

Venegas said working on scholarship essays over the summer meant less time stressing about them during the middle of senior year; she also ended up with a full ride.

Nguyen, 17, doesn’t mince words about what he was like prior to Upward Bound.

“I was a bad kid, my grades were Cs and Ds,” he chuckled. “I would show up for school one day a week.”

A cousin introduced him to the program, while his older brother’s work ethic — he quit college to help support the family — prompted him to get his act together.

His grades and attendance have improved. He’s also interning with Western’s Physical Plant employees. Ultimately, he plans to attend Portland State University to study engineering or business.

“This has built up my confidence,” he said. “I’ve changed a lot … I still make mistakes, but I’m a better person.”

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