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A critical helping hand for students

Help support, celebrate NMH’s Upward Bound program

When we met Juanita, she had been shuttled between foster homes and left to care for herself during high school and despite being a passionate learner, she couldn’t name one four-year college that she might attend. Today, Juanita has a graduate degree in engineering and is weighing multiple job offers.

Darius never got his homework done because he used to leave his textbooks at school; gangs in his neighborhood targeted students carrying books. Today, Darius is thriving in college and preparing for law school.

Dana was a high-achieving student who got pregnant in her junior year but did not give up on her college goals. Today, she is juggling college, work and parenting — and earning grades that keep her on the dean’s list.

Wilfredo moved 12 times before he turned 14. His mom hoped he would be the first in their family to finish high school; today, he is finishing medical school at Brown University, after taking a year off to start a health clinic in rural Haiti.

What Juanita, Darius, Dana and Wilfredo have in common is the Upward Bound (UB) program at Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH). They and other youth who attend the UB program face poverty, homelessness, violence and under-resourced schools; they have few role models. As a result, they have little opportunity to learn about the college application process and to pursue a four-year college degree. Remedying that situation is the singular focus of the UB program at NMH. With support and resources from UB, these students have the capacity to enter and succeed in college. UB alumni say the program supported, challenged,and nurtured them and put them on the path to becoming scholars, professionals, and empowered citizens.

In 1967, NMH’s head of school, Howard Jones, brought the UB program onto the NMH campus, deepening the school’s commitment to expanding educational opportunity. While NMH provides generous in-kind support, the program is primarily funded by grants from the Department of Education, the Community Foundation of Western Mass., the Edwin S. Webster Foundation and additional funds raised by UB families and staff.

The program serves low income and first-generation college bound youth from Springfield, Holyoke, Greenfield and Turners Falls. Students receive intensive advising, tutoring and enrichment; are guided through college visits; and attend a rigorous residential academic program on the NMH campus each summer.

While the UB program at NMH is proud to celebrate its 45th anniversary on Nov. 3, fewer than 7 percent of eligible students in the United States have access to UB services. Locally, students were devastated when UB programs at Holyoke Community College and American International College in Springfield lost funding in May 2012. Approximately 5,000 students across the country lost their UB services at a time when the need continues to rise. Eligible students have been hit hard by the recession, and even when they find their way to college, many take on student debt burdens that are crippling to their futures.

UB is part of TRIO, a set of federally funded programs that motivate and support low-income youth in pursuing college degrees. It is critical that our legislators hear from us that Upward Bound and other TRIO programs need increased funding. So, please, help us share the message that these programs work! Of our 2011 graduates, 100 percent are enrolled in college, as are 88 percent of our 2010 graduates. Nationally, only 38 percent of low-income students attend college. TRIO programs lift students — and the generations that follow them — out of poverty. The investment we make as taxpayers in TRIO programs comes back to our communities many times over in the form of increased earnings and the taxes that college graduates produce, increased civic engagement, increased health outcomes, reduced need for entitlements and the overall strengthening of our communities.

We invite you to celebrate the inspiring successes of UB graduates and to urge your legislators to protect funding for TRIO programs. Please join us on Saturday, Nov. 3, from 7 to 11 p.m., at the Waterfront Tavern in Holyoke. With hors d’oeuvres, desserts, a silent auction, live jazz, special speakers and dancing for all ages, this gala celebration of 45 years of increased access to higher education for young people in western Massachusetts is open to the community (18 and older). Call 413-498-3521 to RSVP or go to www.nmhschool.org/upward-bound-program-alumni.

Gisele Litalien, the director of NMH Upward Bound, lives in Conway.

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