Making a difference for a decade: COM Upward Bound $1.3M grant renewed

Students in College of the Mainland’s Upward Bound Program tour Washington, D.C. The program helps at-risk students from Texas City, La Marque, Hitchcock and Dickinson High School excel in high school and enroll in a college they choose.
Students in College of the Mainland’s Upward Bound Program tour Washington, D.C. The program helps at-risk students from Texas City, La Marque, Hitchcock and Dickinson High School excel in high school and enroll in a college they choose.

When Karol Paredes, of Dickinson, steps onto campus at Texas A&M Kingsville as a botany major, she’s beating the odds.

“I come from a low-income, first-generation family. I honestly never thought I’d be going to a college before Upward Bound. The College of the Mainland Upward Bound Program opened doors for me. They gave me information about which colleges had programs I was looking for and about financial information. Upward Bound is a support system for me – it became my family.”

She is one of the many impacted by College of the Mainland staff at Upward Bound over past 10 years.

The federal grant was renewed this month for another five years for $1,036,040. COM serves high schools where about 70 percent of students are considered at risk by the Texas Education Agency.

To apply to Upward Bound, students must be low-income, first-generation college students or have disabilities. The grant now includes students from Texas City High School, plus La Marque, Hitchcock, Dickinson High School students. 

“We serve a few students intensively,” said Director Ciro Reyes. “These students are beating the odds. 95 percent graduate high school. 85 percent go to post-secondary education.”

The program shows students their options after high school through advising, tutoring, trips to universities and even field trips to cultural events such as Broadway musicals.

Chelsea Murray, an Upward Bound graduate who recently earned a degree from University of Houston, is the program’s newest advisor.

“She will meet with every student this fall. We want to find out what are your goals and how can we help you reach them. Do you want to pass geometry? Get a degree in biology?” said Reyes.

Another focus is financial literacy.

“A lot of college students graduate with bad credit. We do a financial literacy conference on how to be wise with credit and we help students apply for financial aid,” said Reyes.

Paredes attended Upward Bound for three years and plans to study botany.

“Upward Bound helped me set goals. I graduated in top six percent of my class with honors. I took AP, rigorous courses,” said Paredes. “It broadened my horizons. We went to D.C. last summer. I never would have envisioned myself seeing the capital of my country —it meant a lot to me. It was my first time on a plane visiting anywhere.”

Samuel Parada, of Dickinson, 18, came to Upward Bound as a high school freshman. Emboldened by Upward Bound, he then joined the COM Student Government Association, where he served as president his senior year.

“It’s very important for first-generation students to be a part of college life. I was really quiet. It helped me come out of my shell,” said Parada.

He graduated in 2017 from COM Collegiate High with an associate degree and will attend Prairie View A&M University.

“Without Upward Bound, I wouldn’t have attended a university. They guided me through the process and helped me with the funds to take the TSI placement test several times. It’s difficult to ask my parents for $10 to take a test when I might have to take it again,” said Parada. “Upward Bound lets you see different options.”

Paredes and Parada look forward to the next step at universities this fall.

“I would definitely recommend Upward Bound to anyone,” added Paredes. “It makes you feel like you can accomplish anything if you work hard for it.”

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