Exemplary Program Practices
Upward Bound academic year counselors (AYCs) distribute and review each student's evaluation with him or her at length. Counselors use the evaluations, rich in detail and specifics, as a game plan for goal-setting throughout the academic year. Counselors and students alike refer to the summer evaluations frequently, guidance counselors receive a copy and pronounce them extremely helpful and insightful, and seniors select their best evaluations to send off to prospective colleges.
What is it that students await so eagerly in their evaluations? Certainly not the "grades," the percentage of the objectives mastered in each class: most students track their own performances and know before the instructor does what the numbers will read. Rather, it is the subjective commentary offered by their role models, their new heroes, the summer staff.
Summer staff serve as educators in the morning, activity leaders in the evening, and confidantes at all hours. Students encounter a world where the "us and them" of public school doesn't exist, where the good guy/bad guy lines are blurred and the teachers become mentors. The students look up to the summer staff and learn to trust them to both tell the truth and have their best interests in mind. Thus it is no wonder that students scrutinize their evaluations in the fall, hungry for the validation that yes, they really did grow by leaps and bounds last summer and yes, sometimes they messed up and they're still loved anyhow.
The student evaluation has two parts: a cognitive section, wherein the performance objectives for each class are listed and evaluated and the teacher adds important comments at the end; and the affective section, a 1- to 2-page document rich with qualitative information about the student's performance in non-academic components of the program.
Cognitive comments address students' strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject area, reinforced with examples of how the student helped or hindered his or her own success at particular moments. Teachers strive to include specific suggestions on how the student can work to increase his or her academic success. Comments might address a student's reasoning skills, communication skills, learning styles, concentration, cooperation, problem solving, frustration level, ability to ask for help and use resources, and depth of thinking, in addition to content mastery.
Affectives describe student performance in Electives, Excursion (a three-day trip with 10 - 20 other students and staff), Community Service, Community Involvement, and Awards. Community Involvement is the single most sought-out piece of the evaluation, for it addresses issues of student interaction with other students, using the supportive and direct honesty students have come to expect from the staff. "How did I do socially?" is at least as compelling a question for the students as "How did I do academically?" - and appropriately so, as studies indicate that social issues are more likely to challenge the success of first-year college students than academic issues.
Community Involvement describes a student's initiative, growth, leadership, collaborative skills, and communication skills, as well as the particular roles the student chose to take on the community. The staff are trained to write using non-judgmental and empowering language, and students, in turn, respond positively to even the strongest feedback. The affective evaluation serves as a loving but truthful mirror, and the students frequently use the information to make sweeping changes in their socio-emotional identities.Students hold onto their Upward Bound evaluations for years. In a world where so many situations arise to challenge their self-esteem, our students cling to the evaluation as a symbol of their own goodness, of their potential, of hope. Within its pages, the Student Evaluation serves as a reminder of all the growing and thriving they are capable of, and as a fearful and respectful reflection of their struggles. Such true mirrors - indeed, such love - is hard to come by these days.
Duos meet weekly, from ten minutes to two hours, depending on the need and mutual inclination. Some Duo staff serve as a check-in person for their students; other Duos become confidantes and big brothers or sisters, spending hours each week chatting, shopping, playing basketball, or having lunch together. Duos are responsible for tracking their students' academic and social progress.
Duos also serve the crucial role of point person for staff concerns about their students, collecting information and then working with a supervisor to troubleshoot and strategize when a student shows signs of struggle in several arenas at once. Students learn by example about self-esteem, honesty, motivation, communication, and self-care by befriending a successful and well-educated adult.
Students respond enthusiastically to the counseling components year after year. The chance to have a mentor, and to converse weekly with a small group of peers offers students a perspective and a sense of being connected that often makes the difference between alienation and inclusion, homesickness, and a budding social self. Students enjoy, too, the opportunity to enjoy the staff in a less authoritative role. Duo relationships have been continued from year to year, with staff and students staying in touch even once the students go to college.
The Judicial System
The intent in bringing students to the Board is educational rather than retributional. Board members view rule violations as a sign that a student is facing a challenge in learning; the student is offered support, clarification, and insight much as he or she would be if the challenge were difficulty in math or English homework. Board members work hard to maintain a non-judgmental stance. Hearings with students are conversational and respectful; Board member learn to operate with the assumption that everyone is on the same team. The experience is eye-opening and trust-building not only for students brought to the Board, but for those who serve on the Board as well.
Certain subcommittees of the Governing Board perform various important functions: The Advisory Committee, composed of three Governing Board students and two staff, provide hearings for students suspected of violating a major contract provision, as well as speaking with students in jeopardy of not mastering 75% of their class objectives. The Advisory Committee explores the underlying causes of the student's difficulties, and helps him or her strategize for a successful remainder of the summer. Another subcommittee, the Dorm Supervisory Committee, is comprised of one Governing Board student and two staff members, and is designed to expedite the handling of minor curfew and APT infractions.
Students are pleasantly surprised the first time they are called to meet with the Governing Board. Meetings are friendly and informal, time is taken to understand the thinking process a student used in coming to his or her decision to violate a rule. The Governing Board works with the student to generate less problematic solutions or options should the problem arise again. Members of the Board explain the underlying importance of the rule and share their own experiences in coming to terms with it. Students report leaving the Board feeling relieved, supported, and understood. Often students who are frequent "offenders" during their first Upward Bound summer go on to become exemplary Governing Board members in summers to follow!
M&M was initiated after years of staff complaints about students' inactivity during morning classes. When we asked ourselves what the students needed to sustain their attention, the answer came easily: the opportunity for energizing movement, and a chance to destress, relax, and recharge during a busy day.
On alternating days, staff or students lead the entire community, all staff, in group movement or other activities. The movement sessions are based on simple dance exercises, nothing too strenuous, in order to be welcoming to the several exercise-phobic students in the program. Isolations, shoulder rolls, reaching, easy stretching, arm coordination exercises, walking with counts, and sidesteps with jumps, choreographed playfully and set to upbeat (and loud!) music, make students smile, groan, and participate laughingly. The other activities range from basic meditation techniques to guided visualization, storytelling, and stretching.
The appeal and carryover benefits of M&M were obvious almost immediately. It took students a week or so to get used to the idea of compulsory movement and relaxation - two unfamiliar activities for many - but with the powerful example set by staff and student leaders, M&M became cool very quickly. The staff noticed an immediate energy surge in students after M&M each day. They returned to class laughing, engaged, and wide awake. It has become clear to us that if we intend to teach academic and emotional survival in college, we must acknowledge the importance of physical and emotional well-being, and offer our students powerful tools for nurturing their minds and bodies.