Destiny-Dawn Smith, 17, describes her favorite activity as hanging out with her friends. But she didn’t hang out much this summer.
As a participant in the University of Maine’s Upward Bound program, she attended academic classes in the mornings and worked in a greenhouse in the afternoons.
The Upward Bound program, federally funded and conducted each summer at University of Maine campuses around the state, helps students who have the ability and motivation for higher education get the preparation they will need to be successful. More than 80 percent of the students who participate go on to higher education after high school graduation.
This year, 147 students participated at the Orono campus. According to Alan Parks, program director, the primary objective is strengthening student academic skills. This is achieved through academic classes during the mornings. The second objective is to give students job experience. Job placements accomplish this goal.
“We work with disadvantaged youth, but actually in a way they are advantaged,” said Becky Colannino, a counselor with the program. “They go to college and experience academic classes, interesting jobs and dormitory living.”
For the six weeks, Smith and the other students lived on the campus. This was Smith’s second summer in the program.
“Oh, it was a really great experience getting ready for college living,” she said. “The last two years I’ve had a lot of close relationships.”
Smith learned about the program as a student at Orono High School where she is a senior this year. She was recruited by her guidance counselor and interviewed by the Upward Bound staff. She said that factors that were taken into consideration were financial need, ability to do college work as shown by high school grades, and motivation.
“Motivation was really important,” she said. “They wanted to get students who were going to work hard.”
Upward Bound has far exceeded her expectations. She would tell other students considering the program to go for it.
“There’s an incredible bond between people,” she said. “The educational part — they back you up all the way. They help you with everything.”
Her mother, Alyce Smith, is very proud of Destiny, whom she describes as a very likable, friendly person and a real achiever. “She sticks with anything she sets out to do,” she said. “Any of her goals she finishes. She’s worked all the way through high school. Before that she had baby-sitting jobs.”
She feels that Destiny has gained a great deal of self-confidence from the program. “She’s made some lifelong friends, and she’s taken on responsibilities and seen them through to the end.”
Alyce Smith considers one of the greatest benefits of the program to be the opportunity the students have to explore all their options for post-high school education.
“There are so many avenues to go down educationally and I think it really opens it up for high school students,” she said. “They also help them apply for their college and grants.”
She would advise other parents to encourage their children to participate in Upward Bound.
“They take so much out of each year. They really grow,” she said. “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in Destiny is being away from home, even just for six weeks, and depending on herself. It’s been a big self-confidence builder — knowing she can survive without her family.”
She considers the staff of the program to be excellent. “They have some really motivated ideas,” she said. “They spend a lot of time helping the kids to explore themselves, which is really good at that age. They enjoy the kids and they’re really good with them.”
Destiny plans to study psychology in college. Her mother wants her to have the benefits of a good education.
“I’d like to see her go through college and achieve all the goals that she has set out for herself. I’m sure she will,” she said.