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The Allentown Morning Call

Cut Upward Bound, Watch Potential Go Down The Drain

by Margie Peterson Of The Morning Call

10 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved.

Nearly every Saturday during the school year, Liberty High School freshman Marco Allen of Bethlehem wakes up before dawn to catch a 7:55 bus to East Stroudsburg University, where he hammers away at building his future.

While his Liberty classmates sleep in, Allen and 74 other high school students from around the region attend classes and get tutoring aimed at improving their grades at their home schools and preparing them for college and for life.

The program is called Upward Bound and, in its 40-year history, it has altered the course of millions of lives. Monday, President Bush proposed a budget that would eliminate all funding for it.

At a cost of roughly $300 million a year, Upward Bound serves about 400,000 students nationally -- kids who come from low-income families or whose parents didn't go to college or, most likely, both.

At the East Stroudsburg University program, 85 percent of the Upward Bound graduates go on to college, compared with 48 percent of all students from the schools where it recruits, Upward Bound director Wilfredo Lopez told me. He said officials from those schools estimate that about 17 percent of all their low-income students make it to college.

When Julio Guridy immigrated from the Dominican Republic at age 14, college was not on his radar screen, he said. Today Guridy, an Allentown councilman and business owner, credits Upward Bound with putting him on the path to get his bachelor's and master's degrees.

Alexander Rolon of Allentown came alone to this country as a teenager from Puerto Rico, to live with his brother. Rolon said the Upward Bound staff and students became like family to him in high school, helping prepare him to go after his bachelor's and master's degrees. Today he's a mathematics professor at Northampton Community College.

I asked Guridy and another Upward Bound graduate, Bliss Roberts of Wilson, if someone who is motivated enough to attend classes on Saturdays isn't likely to make it to college even without Upward Bound.

Roberts, now a freshman at ESU, said that before she started Upward Bound she was earning C's and D's on her report card and had no plans to go to college. In high school, her grades improved to B's and A's. "The motivation wasn't there when we got here," she said, referring to ESU's Upward Bound. "The motivation came with the program."

Guridy said Upward Bound broadened his horizons with field trips, gave him a taste of college life during the six-week summer program, when he lived on ESU's campus, and showed him what was possible. In the Bethlehem housing projects where he grew up, there were lots of smart kids who never had such chances.

OK, you say, but things are tough all over. The federal government is running record deficits and America needs to spend a bigger piece of the revenue pie on defense, homeland security and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If domestic programs need to be cut, my personal preference would be to scrap the No Child Left Behind law, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars to make their children better standardized test-takers. Ax that law and you could fund Upward Bound and still have billions left over to lower the federal deficit or fund a Marshall Plan for failing schools.

Upward Bound is not a panacea, but it goes a long way toward leveling the playing field for kids who weren't born with silver spoons -- or even good stainless steel -- in their mouths. It instills the creed, as American as chili dogs, that if you work hard, you can get ahead. How shameful if our country should say to these kids: Forget the academic help, the bonding with other motivated kids and the taste of college to whet your appetite -- we'd rather just test you to death.

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