For more than 50 years, Upward Bound, a federally-funded college preparatory program with four grants housed at the University of Nevada, Reno, has prepared Nevada high school students for higher education access and success. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science have worked tirelessly to pivot their services and help their students.
“The reality is that the pandemic has hit our population very hard,” Ellen Houston, Upward Bound director, said. “There is a tremendous disparity in technology for first-generation, low-income students.”
As schools moved to distance learning in March 2020, many students in the Upward Bound/UBMS program did not have access to the necessary equipment and technology needed to work on their studies from home. Some students had to share one device with multiple children in their household. Others had no reliable internet, and many were completing all school work on their phones.
Upward Bound/UBMS staff quickly found ways to purchase and provide technology for program participants. To date, Upward Bound/UBMS has loaned 350 iPads, laptops, unlimited Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless headphones to support students’ transition to distance learning.
A major aim of Upward Bound/UBMS, even before the pandemic, has been to help students stay involved, connected and engaged. This was exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, the program paid $96,000 in summer stipends and work-study, gaining unprecedented federal approval to pay work-study for a virtual academic summer academy and career development activities. The program also paid over $20,000 in University tuition for Summer Bridge participants matriculating to the institution. Additionally, Upward Bound/UBMS held frequent virtual social events that allowed students to socialize with one another, something many were genuinely missing.
“One of the student participants said they hadn’t laughed like that in a long time,” Houston said. “We really want to keep these students connected and engaged with the program. They’ve gone through a lot. Some have lost family members to COVID-19, some have had to find jobs and are now contributing as breadwinners in their family. If we can keep them participating in the program, we know they’ll have a better shot at higher education.”
Houston said that Upward Bound/UBMS is currently paying its student participants who meet the program’s participation guidelines $40 a month. During the 2019-2020 project year, Upward Bound:
- Helped 2020 graduates earn over $1 million in scholarship funds
- Provided 10,123 hours of tutoring, SAT/ACT prep and writing assistance
- Held two online SAT/ACT prep boot camps where 57% of juniors improved their ACT scores by one or more points
- Guided program students in earning 1,359 college credits through dual enrollment
- Planned and executed 70+ online co-curricular workshops and events
- Celebrated 100% of program students graduating and/or moving on to the next grade level.
In addition to major and career exploration services, Upward Bound/UBMS also provided the following remote programs in summer 2020:
- Virtual Summer Academy (118 students)
- Summer Bridge with college coursework paid by the program (36 students)
- Online dual enrollment TMCC Psychology 101 course (26 students)
- Online SAT/ACT Prep Course (10 students)
- Online SAT Prep Boot Camp (32 students)
- University of California, Berkeley Math Science Summer Academy (eight students)
The program’s counselors and director have been frequently communicating with both parents and students. Another aim of the program is to act as a constant resource for parents of students.
“For most parents whose kids are first-generation, things are even harder now,” Houston said. “The district is doing an amazing job of pumping out information, but we found that some of our parents didn’t know how to access it. We are telling parents that now more than ever, we can be a support to their students.”
The program is recruiting for both the current school year and next fall.