BU Upward Bound works with students who are living in Boston or go to Boston Public Schools. Primarily Upward Bound works with students from their target high schools, with the goal of helping them go to and be successful in college. Students join the program in 9th or 10th grade, with the idea that they stay with the program until they graduate from high school, and Upward Bound then tracks them while they’re in college or for 7 years, whichever comes first, in terms of their obtaining a bachelor’s degree or an associates degree. While students are in high school, the program exposes them to the ins and outs, the resources, and the academic expectations of college.

Key Takeaways

  • Staff need to have the cultural competency to be able to help students from a variety of different backgrounds persevere through a variety of different problems.

  • It is necessary to pair high expectations for students to accomplish their goals with high support for them so that they have the resources to accomplish their goals even if they encounter hardships.

  • Students can demonstrate strong perseverance in various areas, even if they do not demonstrate that skill in their work at a program; it is necessary to let students know that they have the skills already so that they can begin applying them to other aspects of life.

  • Students need guidance and support through difficult times, not punishment; if a student is going through difficulties, it is better to explain the options for different paths they can take rather than punish them for choosing the wrong one.

What are the resources students can access to not give up if they’re having a tough time either in school or in the program?

It starts with being a tutor with the student, and connecting with them. Specifically if they’re having a tough time with a specific class. The tutors that they’re working with, who are college students, give them practical advice on how to approach things on an academic level. But there’s also personal issues that students are dealing with. So the staff also plays a role in helping students through those times. It’s easy when students are doing a great job, and everything’s going well in their lives, but it’s really different when they’re having difficulty with academic coursework, or they might be having difficulty in their personal lives. That’s when it’s important for them to see that there’s a trusted figure in their lives that can impart advice, or maybe just commiseration and empathy. Sometimes students might just need encouragement, they might just need a pat on the back, and for a coach to say, “Keep going, you’re doing a good job, just keep it up.”


Furthermore when we hire staff, the goal is to hire staff members who mirror the backgrounds and circumstances that the students come from, so that perseverance is something that the students can visibly see. They see this person has had success. The students think, “They’re telling me they had a hard time but they overcame it, so that’s something I can do as well.” That’s something we try to be intentional about in hiring. At the very least it is hiring a staff that has those cultural competency skills to be able to connect with students from varied backgrounds, so that they keep them trying to reach their goals.


Students meet with their tutors one on one, once a week over the summer, to go over goal setting, how to achieve those goals, how you may need to address those goals. That’s not only the role of tutors, but that’s the role of all the staff in talking to students about their goals when they start to falter. And even before students get into a situation, if we know that they might be headed in the wrong direction, it’s meeting with the student and saying, “Okay these are the choices that you can make. If you make this choice, I’ve seen this happen to students before.” We have those conversations, so that students can, when they do stumble, have an understanding of what went wrong, and have that dialogue so that they can overcome it as they see those issues come again. It’s trying to prepare the students, so when something does go wrong, these are things that we’ve spoken to them about, and they might remember that. Or, from being on a college campus and trying to navigate their own ways, they might start to develop their own sense of coping strategies.

How do you reach all students at a level of high engagement, even if some students are excelling while others are struggling?

The culture of Upward Bound is high expectations, and with those high expectations, high support. I think there are some programs and some situations, where students are given high expectations, but they don’t have any support to meet those expectations. So when they falter, it’s “Well you didn’t meet the expectations, so we’re either going to put you in another school,” or “We’re going to hold you back,” and things that are more punitive than supportive and helping. Or, programs have a high level of support, but they are catering to the lowest common denominator, where students are not really building and reaching their full potential. Our classes are based on levels. Before the summer, students take pre-summer testing in literature, writing, and math. For the literature and writing class, it’s in tiered levels, A, B, and C, based on the student’s exam. Within each class we’re trying to work with students in the highest common denominator, so that the aim is to reach high goals. It’s also a part of the teacher’s job, the tutor’s job, and the administrative staff’s jobs, to support that student. Maybe this is the first time that the student is working on calculus, or chemistry, or Latin. We make sure that the student understands that there are always people to help them. So it’s on them, we’re not going to give up on them, they can do this, we believe it’s an important part of what they need to do academically for future success. So when students get the message that it’s important and there’s a caring adult who’s going to help you, it starts a shift in what they expect of themselves.