Students in summer academy science lab at FRCC-Westminster

When school let out in May, about 20 Westminster High School students continued learning this summer by doing and having fun—through FRCC’s TRIO Upward Bound summer academy.

Now starting its fifth year at FRCC, TRIO Upward Bound annually serves 60 high school students who are potential first-generation college students or come from limited-income backgrounds. The students are interested in pursuing postsecondary education, and the program’s goal is to get them there—through mentorship, academic support, college and career guidance and a summer academy.

Upward Bound is one of several federally funded TRIO programs made possible by major grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Support During School Year + Summer Enrichment

The six-week summer academy is a culmination of the Upward Bound program that runs throughout the school year. In a typical year, it brings Westminster High School students to the FRCC campus for classes and hands-on learning experiences. FRCC faculty and community partners teach all the summer classes.

The 2021 academy came at the end of a pandemic-impacted school year—and was a welcome opportunity to learn, grow, explore career and college possibilities, and meet other students.

Monday through Thursday throughout the summer, students participated in remote learning, with classes and activities centered around:

  • math
  • literacy and expression
  • science
  • technology
  • financial literacy
  • world languages
  • wellness
  • developing their strengths

Students had the opportunity to receive individual coaching every afternoon if needed. On Fridays, they came together in person for field trips—to places like the Museum of Nature and Science, the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mine, El Museo de las Americas and Jack’s Solar Farm in Longmont.  

Relevant, Project-Based Learning

“This year, we offered a project-based learning STEAM component that centered around food,” says Koreeña Montoya, director of the TRIO Upward Bound program at FRCC. “We taught students about cooking, including the concepts of ratios and the science of nutrition and bacteria.”

“We brought in the cultural aspect as well, giving students the opportunity to express their cultures and themselves through cooking. Students also chose at least one book as part of the book club component and told their own stories through memoir writing activities. Those allowed them to engage in critical and courageous conversations around identities and social movements.”

Koreeña adds that—after a year of virtual programming—students have been excited to connect in person. “Despite the challenges and setbacks caused by the pandemic, we have an incredibly committed team of instructional coaches and mentors, and we were able to serve around 20 students consistently this summer.” (Previous summer academies hosted around 30 students on campus.)

Inspiring and Impactful for College-Hopeful Students

Khang Tran, a soon-to-be junior at Westminster High School (WHS), participated in the Upward Bound summer academy after hearing about it from a friend who was already involved.

“This was a great summer experience and opened me up to a lot of possible career options,” Khang says. “We went to a solar plant and learned Colorado history when we visited Georgetown and rode the train. I loved how we dove into topics I might not normally learn about over summer break. It also got me thinking about what I will look for in a college when I start researching this year.”

Mariana Patino—a rising sophomore year at WHS was nominated to join TRIO Upward Bound last spring by a teacher. She says the summer academy seemed like an opportunity to do something enjoyable and boost her résumé for college.

“I became friends with people I hadn’t met freshman year, and explored all kinds of different academic areas,” she says. “I also was introduced to topics like how financial aid works and how to start looking for scholarships. It was really motivating and educational, but in a fun way.”

Like Summer Camp for Teens

Dr. Fan Yeung has taught in the summer academy and supported TRIO Upward Bound throughout the school year since it started in 2017. “The academy is a lot of learning, but in a laidback way,” she says. “It’s like summer camp for these students.”

“We’ve had to adapt during the pandemic to teach online, but the students are creative and excited to learn new things. And the theme [this] summer brought together STEAM topics, as well as a life skill that these students need, which is cooking for themselves.”

A first-generation college graduate herself, Dr. Yeung says that the summer academy is when Upward Bound brings everything together. “During the school year, there is a lot of emotional and academic support. [Then] we help them a lot in the summer with learning about college, narrowing down career paths, discovering their passions and more.”

Impressive Outcomes for Alumni

Another person who was involved in this year’s summer academy was Mahelet De Anda, a graduate of WHS (2018) and FRCC (A.A., 2020). She served as a college mentor for the current students, and supported the academy’s instructional coaches as a teaching assistant.

“I don’t think I would have gone to college had I not had the kind of support that I did from TRIO Upward Bound,” Mahelet says. “They made college seem achievable and motivated me.”

“I loved being involved in the summer academy as a mentor, while helping students embrace their strengths and overcome their fears.”

Mahelet is off to Metropolitan State University of Denver this fall to pursue a biology degree with a concentration in health. In a couple of years, she plans to either start medical school or study to become a physician’s assistant.

Zaira Villalobos is another TRIO Upward Bound participant who’s headed to college in the fall. She participated in the summer academy after graduating from WHS in May, and will start the University of Colorado-Denver’s B.A./B.S.-MD program later this month.

“I was part of Upward Bound from freshman to senior year, and the most helpful part was touring colleges and learning about all of the steps to get to college during the summer academy,” she says.

“Everyone at FRCC was so nice and supportive. College wasn’t something we talked about when I was growing up, so getting involved in TRIO made a huge difference in my life.”

In addition to participating in the summer academy, Zaira helped found a peer mentor program called Participants Engaging Emotionally in Peer Support (PEEPS)—a response to help students cope with the fears and stress brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This summer, participants in the group connected virtually once a week. The PEEPS program will expand in 2021-2022 beyond TRIO Upward Bound, and be open to all WHS students.

Ready to Bloom Where They Are Planted

To Koreeña, the value of the Upward Bound summer academy is that it brings students together and gives them a place to belong.

“TRIO is all about giving students support, encouragement and a sense of belonging,” she says.

“We’re very intentional about identifying the gaps and being creative about how to address them. The summer academy is a good example of this.”

After concluding its fourth year, TRIO Upward Bound outcomes have been strong—and students continue to show that. “We see potential in our students that they don’t always see themselves,” Koreeña says.

“I believe all of them are ready to bloom, and if they have enough water and nurturing, they will.”

“That’s my philosophy with TRIO Upward Bound and the summer academy. I like planting the seeds during the year and watching students bloom throughout the summer and beyond.”

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