Summer vacation leaves a lot of teenagers wondering what to do, but boredom is definitely not a problem for the high school students participating in Upward Bound’s Summer Academy at FRCC. About 40 students from Westminster High School are spending their weekdays on the college’s Westminster Campus—having fun while doing project-based learning to prepare for college and careers.

What Is TRIO Upward Bound?

TRIO is a group of federal programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. As one of those programs, Upward Bound focuses on preparing students to get into—and succeed in—college.

TRIO Upward Bound serves high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree and high school students from limited-income backgrounds. Upward Bound staff can offer all this through a grant from the federal Department of Education.

Summer Academy at FRCC.

This six-week program runs all day Monday-Friday. Students work on reading, writing, math, and science. They also learn American Sign Language and gain an understanding of deaf culture. And to make sure the students’ knowledge is well rounded and practical, studies also include topics like financial literacy, life skills, and stress management. FRCC faculty and community partners teach all classes.

It’s Not All Classroom and Lectures.

“We take academic objectives to create projects where students learn to work together and problem solve,” says Koreeña Montoya, director of  the new Upward Bound program. Students create escape rooms using math problems from college placement exams while also learning how to tell their own story through personal narrative writing. They also get exposure to money basics including budgeting, checking, credit and investments from certified volunteers through a partnership with Operation HOPE, a for-purpose organization working to disrupt poverty. 

At lunch, the students break from studies to focus on health and wellness—getting physical with open gym time and nature walks in the open space behind campus. Upward Bound also provides group activities to promote healthy coping skills.

“We want to empower them to be active and engaged in their community and school,” says Koreeña, herself a TRIO alumna. “It’s a supportive learning community. We’re all growing, learning, struggling, coping—finding our strengths and weaknesses, and developing as leaders.”

Fridays Are For Fun.

On Fridays, the group ventures out on field trips to explore local social, cultural, and academic amenities throughout the Denver area.

Wherever they’re headed, the field trip itself is a learning experience. The group takes RTD buses and trains to reach their destinations. “They have to figure out the schedule, and learn to read maps so that we can get there,” says Koreeña. “We want them to be confident enough to utilize public transportation on their own.”

Field trips included the Denver Art Museum, Metropolitan State University of Denver, History Colorado Center, and Mid-Air Adventures. The students also took on a service-learning project of their own, choosing to clean up trash along the Little Dry Creek trail for the City of Westminster.

A Final Adventure.

Before heading back to school, the students take a road trip to celebrate the end of the program with college campus visits and a retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies in Winter Park. This trip helps them get comfortable with the concept of college and the feel of being on campus and staying in a dorm.

“No matter what school they want to attend, we want them to learn to navigate in that environment, so that they can successfully enroll, matriculate, and graduate,” says Koreeña. “We use the time during the road trip to solidly reflect on what we learned over summer, think about individual goals for the next year, and imagine possibilities for the future.”

More Than Just a Summer Program.

TRIO Upward Bound runs year round, providing holistic case management for ninth through 12th graders attending Westminster High School. The students are provided with wrap-around services that take a comprehensive approach to helping them succeed. These include:

  • Career, academic, college, and financial aid advising
  • Tutoring and homework help (using FRCC tutors from its Academic Success Center)
  • Individualized coaching on social/emotional skills, financial literacy and other life skills
  • Student success workshops

“The big goal is for them to graduate from high school ready for college, and to graduate from college within six years,” says Koreeña. But it’s not easy.

“First, students have to apply, qualify, and interview,” says Koreeña. “Once they’re in the program, they have to be truly dedicated and stick with it. It’s a lot of work.” Family involvement is also a key piece of the program.

Four days a week throughout the school year, the Upward Bound staff offers services as an after-school program in Westminster High School’s library. On Wednesdays—when school gets out early—they provide group programming from 1-5pm. These include workshops on college and career choices, as well as field trips to destinations such as the art institute, the state capital, FRCC’s Westminster Campus for mock lectures from faculty, and to the University of Colorado-Boulder to visit its BioFrontiers Institute, which exposes them to careers in the biotech industry.

What’s Next?

The TRIO Upward Bound program at FRCC in Westminster started last September. “We’re not even one year in, but feel good about what we’ve done so far,” says Koreeña. “We have established a solid learning community and plan to create partnerships to impact the college-going culture at Westminster High School.”

For example, she says, her small team would like to collaborate with the school’s honor society and Future Center to increase their tutoring capacity and expand career exposure opportunities.

If you have a student at Westminster High School who could benefit from Upward Bound, contact the program’s academic counselor Olivia Hunte: 720-436-1588.

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