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The Upward Bound Program at East Central University is all about investing in the lives of high school students.

Upward Bound was established by the U.S. Department of Education in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. In 2014, Upward Bound is currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary on a national level.

The Upward Bound program made its way to the ECU campus in 1966 and has been a steady outlet for high school students, particularly those aspiring to be first-generation college students, to have a leg up on achieving their future goals.

Tonya Harrell, program coordinator for ECU’s Upward Bound for the past eight years, knows firsthand the importance of the program because she was a part of it as a high school student from Tishomingo.

Upward Bound set the stage for Harrell achieving an associate’s degree from Murray State College, before transferring to ECU to earn bachelor’s degree in 1995 and master’s degree in 1997, both in criminal justice.

“As a student we went to meetings and went on summer field trips, career trips and cultural trips,” said Harrell. “It helped me to come to college, otherwise I wouldn’t have.”

Upward Bound is currently available to students from Byng, Allen, Coalgate, Tupelo, Konawa, Vanoss, Crowder, Moss, Pauls Valley, Wynnewood, Sasakwa and Calvin. These schools are serviced by Upward Bound, primarily based on the number of free and reduced school lunches and by the number of dropouts and high school graduates.

“Tonya does a plethora of things, including financial aid, college tours, monitors the grades of the participating students to make sure they are on track (to graduate) and help them apply to college,” said Dannie Patton, program director for Upward Bound.

The results has been continual success, particularly recently. Of the 12 recent high school graduates involved in the Upward Bound program, 10 are headed to ECU, one is going into the Navy and the other is headed to the University of Oklahoma.

Both Harrell and Patton described the 2013-14 group one of the most tight-knit groups they’ve had since working in the program.

“This year’s students got really, really close. They were like a family,” Harrell said. “You can make lifelong friends through this and the opportunity to do things they’ve never done before.”

The group recently had fun at Frontier City in Oklahoma City and attended the stage production of Wicked in Tulsa.

The trips can be fun, educational or both.

“We were eating at Golden Corral and one of our students had never eaten there before and was excited,” Patton said. “We’ve had some that had never been down to Texas or up to Kansas and some who haven’t been away from their area of the state. They take classes to help them with their academics and they get a college experience by staying in dorms.”

Evidence of the program’s success is in the matriculation rate which is 10 percent higher than the norm and there’s a 25 percent better chance of these students getting a degree, according to Patton.

Obviously, academics play a major role. The Upward Bound students have classes for two hours on Saturdays during the academic calendar year, usually twice a month, focusing on such topics as English, composition and math. During the summers, during a six-week span, they meet from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day with classes in foreign languages, sign language, art and physical education to name a few.

Some students even earned high school credit this summer by taking a zoology/botany class during that six-week span, according to Harrell.


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