Upward Bound reaches many

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

Andalusia City Councilman Bridges Anderson was able to bring a special group of friends to the most recent meeting of the city council, held last Tuesday, June 17.

Included in the audience for the council session were high school students currently involved in LBW Jr. Community College's Upward Bound program, which Anderson has been the director of since 1991. The nationwide program has actually been at LBW since 1976.

"The Upward Bound program is geared to prepare high school students for college," said Anderson, who participated in the program himself as an Opp High School student in 1978-79. "We are presently serving 65 students in Covington, Butler and Crenshaw counties."

Anderson said academics is stressed first in the program but said he also wants the students to enjoy themselves, which is why he plans what he terms as "culture trips."

"We do have what we call a Summer Olympics, and we have a Scholar's Bowl, which this year will be held on the campus of Alabama A&M University and we will compete in athletics and academics," said Anderson.

Anderson described the journey which led to the position he now holds in the Upward Bound program.

Anderson, a standout basketball player in high school, said as a high school student he initially had no intentions of going to college, but after he became involved with Upward Bound, someone in the program challenged him,

and basically told him that basketball would not last forever and that he needed a plan to fall back on.

"I told (Upward Bound advisers) that I may not be college material, but they said I was college material," said Anderson. "I received a scholarship (to LBW) and played basketball two years here before I went to South Dakota. I got a two-year degree (from LBW) and then got a four-year degree from Alabama State University. Then I got my Masters Degree from Troy. I credit (his college success) to the Upward Bound program. You don't have to be the smartest person to go to college, but you just have to have discipline."

He said his own experiences make the success enjoyed by those students he works with in the program especially gratifying.

'When I look at the students, I kind of see myself in those students," said Anderson. "A lot of them come here and they are not motivated and they will get with their peers who tell them they are not smart enough to go to college. They come back here and we will have to rebuild their motivation. A lot of them will not go off to college and we always tell them this is your last free ride because you are in this program because of the taxpayers."

Anderson, who met his wife through the program, and whose brother-in-law also participated in Upward Bound,

said he has a lot of positive stories he can tell, and about students who never envisioned themselves participating in higher education.

He said students are informed about the program by their high school counselors and said recruitment is also a major aspect of the program.

"A counselor and I will go out and recruit; and we recruit in the community and in the homes," said Anderson.

While educational aspects of the program are the major priority, Anderson said cultural aspects are also emphasized.

"We are going to take 75 people to San Antonio, Texas for four days and three nights and everything is paid for so that will give the students the opportunity to see a place that, as far as a family trip, they won't ever go," said Anderson. "Last year we went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee."

Even smaller trips, such as the one to the city council meeting last week, serves a key purpose said Anderson.

"We (attended the meeting) to teach the students about government and a lot of them expected (the councilmen) to sit down and fuss and argue," said Anderson. "I told the students that sometimes we do have a disagreement, but that doesn't mean I can't work with (the other councilmen). We tried to get the students to learn proper procedures such as making a motion. They did not realize what a municipality could do regarding issues affecting the city and they were impressed. They didn't realize what goes on behind closed doors. They were also nervous (because of the television camera recording the meeting.)"

He said there are several misconceptions about the Upward Bound program.

"A lot of people think the program is for minorities or for blacks, but we go out and recruit students," said Anderson. "Two-thirds must be low-income and first generation and one-third can be other students. They receive a stipend for the six weeks and that's an incentive. They will probably receive between $90 and $100 for the six weeks and we have to give those individuals the money at the end of the program because when we go to Texas they will probably spend it in the malls or buying presents for their parents. During the academic year they probably receive $8 per Saturday and there are 18 Saturdays out of the year."

He said he tries to maintain relationships with the students in the program even after they have finished their time in it.

"We have around seven or eight students who graduate from college next year, and they will e-mail me and tell me they are finally getting their college degree," said Anderson. "I have a total of 80 students who have received four-year degrees and we keep up with them and track them after they get in college."

"I enjoy it when someone comes back and says, 'Mr Anderson, thank you for the Upward Bound program and thank you for the opportunity," said Anderson. "A lot of times you won't hear those 'thank yous' until they have completed their course of study. We always tell them to give back to their communities and try to come back and help someone else. That's what I love is for someone to come back and give to the community."

Anderson acknowledged, however, that not every Upward Bound story has been a positive one.

"Of course (there have been disappointments)," said Anderson. "We had a young man a few years ago who was charged with conspiracy and is serving time in prison and we had another student who is now on Death Row. There are some that steal, and you are going to have some sad stories. We can only provide the service and I'll go out of the way and do whatever I can to provide a service and if you don't want to take advantage of it, don't blame society."

He said much of the success of the program depends on its ability to attract grants to keep it going.

"The program is very competitive and every four years we have to write a grant," said Anderson. "This year a lot of schools lost their Upward Bound programs and it's a chance we're taking because we know that if we're not funded, I am out of a job."

He said that key factors which are considered in the grant process are statistics such as graduation and dropout rates, and how many students from the area go on to receive college degrees.