High school mentor program gets boost in budget

By Tara Kulash

A grant from the U.S. Department of Education will result in an $11,000 increase in SIU’s Project Upward Bound budget.

Project Upward Bound is a national program designed to prepare low-income and/or first generation students for college. It is completely funded by the U.S. Department of Education and services are provided during the academic year as well as a six-week summer program.

From Sept. 1, 2011 to Aug. 31, the grant from the U.S.D.E. amounted to $371,996. Beginning Sept. 1, Project Upward Bound will receive $382,500. The program is expected to receive that same amount for the next five years.


At SIU, the program reaches out to six high schools in Jackson, Pulaski and Alexander counties including Cairo High School, Carbondale Community High School and Murphysboro High School, said Antyne Lester, Project Bound director.

He said after the application process, at least 80 students a year are selected for the program. They’re brought to the SIU campus about twice a month on the weekends for help with test taking, college preparation, personal development and courses such as math, science and English.

Most of the grant money goes toward the summer program, Lester said, where between 40 and 50 students stay on campus for six weeks to experience college life.

This summer’s session runs June 24 through Aug. 3. Costs include housing—which Lester said increased — dining, transportation and more.

Even though the grant was increased by about $11,000, there will be five more students added to Upward Bound, so the budget will still be tight, he said.

“We try to budget and we try the best we can,” Lester said. “I guess we’re successful in that regard, but sometimes we have to turn students away.”

Other schools in the area that receive grant money for the program include Rend Lake College and Northern Illinois University.

Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL) said in a press release that the funds are a significant resource for universities because the program encourages and prepares students for college. He said it is also beneficial to eligible students because a college education is important in today’s job market.

“I will continue to support efforts to provide interested students the opportunity to attend college,” he said in the release.

Lester said he agrees the program is important.

“They (the students) get the college experience way before the average college student does,” he said. “And just having the access to that knowledge, that’s big for the students that are typically underserved.”

Daniel Booth, principal of Carbondale Community High School, vouched for the program. He said a representative from Upward Bound visits the high school at least once a month during the students’ lunch hour to check on their progress and keep them motivated.

“Just the demographic that the Upward Bound Program is geared toward … any extra effort or any extra help that they can get is always huge,” Booth said.

At Murphysboro High School, Carolyn Gallegly, head guidance counselor, said the guidance office helps out with the program by providing referrals and recommendation forms to the mentors as well as coordinating recommendation letters from teachers. She said the students enjoy the program immensely, because it helps them learn how to set goals. Students even approach the guidance counselors, asking to get connected with the program, Gallegly said.

“It gives the students a chance to see successful adults on campus teaching classes or working on projects in the community,” she said. “It gives them a chance to see what’s out there.”