Two programs at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith are continuing to boost the self-confidence of young students and help them be better prepared for what lies ahead in the classroom and in life, said one official.

The university's Upward Bound Math/Science program and the Upward Bound Classic program are federally funded programs that provide opportunities for area students in grades 9-12 to improve their skills and increase their motivation, said Christin Staats, coordinator for the Upward Bound Math/Science program at UAFS. These opportunities include activities, advising sessions, college visits and cultural-enrichment events, she said.

"We serve Cedarville, Alma, Van Buren, Mansfield, Hackett and students at Northside High School, Kimmons Jurnior High School and Darby Junior High School, and the overall goal of Upward Bound is to prepare students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter post-secondary education and see them graduate with a bachelor's degree, " Staats said. "These programs are provided free for the students who meet the requirements, and students apply to be in the program as freshmen.

"Our programs have different activities throughout the school year, and we'll have a meeting one Saturday a month," she added. "We also offer an after-school tutor if they have a need for it, and the students take classes based on the classes that they will be taking the following year at their respective high schools." 

The Upward Bound programs also include a six-week summer camp, which recently culminated with participating students taking a trip to the Missouri cities of Kansas City and Springfield, said Brittany Slamons, director of student support services and trio director at UAFS.

"We visited the new Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and attended a Minor League Baseball game in Springfield, and we did Fantastic Caverns," she said. "We traveled to Kansas City for two full days and we hit Royals Stadium and visited the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan."

The Upward Bound students also spent time at the National World War I Museum and the Science Center, shopped in downtown Kansas City and took in the sights and sounds of Worlds of Fun, Slamons said.

"We took 51 students for that trip," she said. "It was fun."  

Each UAFS Upward Bound program serves 62 area students who must meet specific income guidelines that are established by the U.S. Department of Education, she said.

"The students also have to reside in a home where neither parent earned a bachelor's degree, thus making the student the first students from their family to do so," Staats said.

Upward Bound representatives begin recruiting students each fall, making presentations to area ninth-grade students in late August and early September, said Kelly Vongnarath, director of the Upward Bound Math/Science program.

"This way, the students will have an opportunity to hear about us, and we'll do follow-up with applications," she said. "Students can pick up an application at our building, the Vines Building, in office No. 153. The applications will be due Sept. 12."

According to Slamons, "major" differences in participating students often can be seen within the few weeks.

"In the beginning, a student might be shy and really quiet, but then they quickly make new friends and blossom into the young adults that they become," she said. "The program is designed for them to stay in until they graduate from high school, and from one year to the next, you can see major maturity happen."

Nyla Darbeau, director of the Upward Bound Classic program at UAFS, agreed.

"I believe that the Upward Bound programs provide an invaluable service to students from underrepresented groups," she said. "The program gives those of us who serve these students the privilege of making a change in the trajectory of these students' lives.

"A college education for a lot of these students will have a generational impact, and the Upward Bound programs play a role in making that vision a reality," Darbeau added. "I believe that talent is always equally distributed but opportunity isn't. Upward Bound programs help facilitate that opportunity for students we serve."

Upward Bound's tutoring has been one of several programs that impact students in a positive way, Vongnarath said.

"We have tutoring in English, math, science and history, and we use area instructors from the local schools to serve as tutors," she said. "We also have professors and students from the UAFS campus who also tutor, and we use an online tutoring software to help those who can't make it to campus."

Performance reports are created as part of the programs' federal requirements, with national officials looking at GPAs and ACT scores of participating students, Slamons said.

"We want students to obtain college-ready scores and not require college remedial courses while working to obtain a degree," she said. "It's all about growth in the students and getting more and more students to choose post-secondary education and obtain a degree in their field."