TRIO Upward program preparing high school students for college

Trio Upward Bound's mission is to encourage students to go on and to know that college - and a bright future - are in reach.

CALDWELL -- Pushing kids to accomplish things they might have never thought possible, providing them endless opportunities and supporting them every step of the way. These are just some of the goals of TRIO Upward Bound - a long-standing national program for high schoolers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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At high schools around the state and country, TRIO Upward Bound serves low-income students, those with disabilities and teens who would be the first in their family to get a four-year degree. Its mission is to encourage students to go on and to know that college - and a bright future - are in reach.

TRIO is funded through the U.S. Department of Education and is focused on encouraging and preparing students for college as well as helping them navigate the system and apply for scholarships. Upward Bound is just one of eight TRIO programs in schools and colleges across the country.

KTVB learned about how the program has proven to be success and is changing lives for students at Caldwell High School where 92 percent of last year's Upward Bound seniors enrolled in post-secondary education.

Caldwell, Borah, Capital, Meridian, Nampa, Owhyee and Rimrock High Schools all have an Upward Bound program and it is implemented through Boise State University.

On Tuesday, four TRIO Upward Bound alumni who are now attending college sat in front of students currently enrolled in the program to share their college experiences thus far, provide advice and discuss how TRIO has helped them achieve their goals.

"I will be a first generation student to go to college," Caldwell High School senior in the Upward Bound program, Juan Saavedra, said.

"I believe my mom got her GED, I'm not so sure. My dad didn't graduate," Caldwell High School junior in the Upward Bound program, Faith Alaniz, added.

Alaniz is planning to apply to Ivy League schools next year and pursue her passions in law and women's empowerment.

"TRIO just kind of like shaped my viewpoint: it was like, OK you're getting these grades to go here," she said. "I don't think I'd have any of the opportunities without Josh or TRIO."

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"Before this program I was kind of just like, eh, it's high school and just kind of brushed it off," Saavedra said. "If it wasn't for this program I wouldn't be here today stressing about having to go to college and the importance of higher education."

Faith and Juan will soon be sitting where Upward Bound alumni and current college students like Tatiana Velasco sat on Tuesday.

"I just finished my first semester and I was lucky enough to end with a 4.0," Velasco told current students. "I'm double majoring in Biochemistry and Chemistry."

"Tati" is a University of Idaho freshman who, like all her peers, says she wouldn't be where she is today without the support and guidance of the TRIO program.

"My mom went up to sixth grade in Mexico," Velasco said. "Nobody has even graduated high school so just the fact that I'm like kind of making a path for them to follow, it puts a lot of pressure but it helps I think. It kind of gives me motivation."

TRIO Upward Bound isn't your typical high school class.

"Just like that thing that I needed was a support system, the people that can show me the steps there," one alumni and current University of Idaho sophomore, Jean, told current students on Tuesday.

"First and foremost it's about helping students see a bachelor's degree as something that's possible," Caldwell High School's TRIO Upward Bound education specialist, Joshua Engler, told KTVB.

During the academic year, students from limited-income families or families where neither parent has their bachelor's degree receive daily instruction in current events, college prep math, literature, language arts, science, career and college exploration, and tutoring. They also participate in a six-week summer residential program on Boise State University's campus.

The program isn't just confined to the classroom.

"We have the education component of it but to me, it's about helping develop leadership, engagement in their communities," Engler told KTVB. "The classroom part of it is only one part of what we do. So we'll plan during the year college visits, we have a strong community service component to that. It's important we give back to the community that helps support us. [We have] the book club. To me, it's about trying to create experiences for students that they might not otherwise have had.

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"That opens up doors and opportunities and it opens up their hopes and their goals and their dreams. Somebody saying, like, you can do this and we're gonna be here to support you through it," Engler addded.

Support and motivation run deep inside and outside the classroom.

"I want to get acceptance letters, I want to get these scholarships, I want to be able to apply for something but if I don't have that grit then it won't happen," Saavedra said.

As students face challenges, they transcend their barriers.

"I kept my grades up all the way through senior year and I was able to raise my GPA quite substantially that I would not have been able to do without the program," another alumni and current Boise State University freshman, Drew, told the class on Tuesday, "I wouldn't have gone to college without the program."

"There's a lot of hurdles to overcome. I think the students are incredibly persistent and resourceful," Engler added. "I think our program provides support but it's the students who accomplish it."