A Florida State University program that helps and inspires Gadsden County students to finish high school and college is about to get bigger and stronger.
FSU’s Upward Bound will receive about $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education to continue to build its decades-long Gadsden County operations and to expand to Jackson County, said DeOnte Brown, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and director of the university’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, or CARE, which oversees the program.
CARE will receive about $2.1 million for Upward Bound in Gadsden County and about $1.4 for Jackson County. Both grants cover five-year cycles.
“I’m very excited that we’ll receive additional funding to support and expand the life-changing work we do,” Brown said. “I’m ecstatic and proud of the team we’ve put together, because this expands our reach.”
The U.S. government created Upward Bound as part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. FSU launched it in Gadsden County in 1989, and administrators hail it today as one of the longest continuously funded Upward Bound programs in Florida.
The program serves traditionally underrepresented students in high school and gives them information, instruction, motivation, tutoring, testing help and more to ensure that they graduate from high school, then enroll in and graduate from college.
Brown saluted Upward Bound Gadsden County for a 100% high school graduation rate for students in the program in 2020 and 2021. And three students from this year’s program will enroll at FSU this summer or fall, he said.
Over the past two years, 80% of students enrolled immediately in college, and 95% proved proficient in Florida Standards Assessments.
“To have been consistently funded in Gadsden County since 1989 means the model we have works,” said Brown, an Upward Bound alumnus himself. “We’ve been able to graduate students from high school and get them enrolled in college. I’m a prime example of that.”
Brown made straight As and served as a campus leader in the 2000s when he attended East Gadsden High School, now Gadsden County High. Upward Bound helped him to explore colleges beyond Tallahassee and to discover an interest that would remain dear to him: the arts.
The program has stayed the course, with a “Saturday Academy” that conducts information workshops and takes students to see productions such as “Hamilton” or “The Nutcracker.” Upward Bound FSU also offers a Summer Residential Program that allows students to experience living and learning on a college campus.
“It exposed us to something different and expanded our horizons,” Brown said about his experience in Upward Bound. “And the staff members were there to support us and be our biggest cheerleaders.”
Likewise for LaKesha Brown, an Upward Bound alumna who has worked in FSU’s program for more than five years. She recently became Gadsden County project director.
Like DeOnte Brown – no relation – she is a first-generation college graduate, as are all full-time staff in Upward Bound Gadsden County.
CARE will use the Jackson County grant to focus primarily on students at Sneads High School, while its Gadsden County grant will continue to focus primarily on students at Gadsden County High School.
CARE officials say they expect Upward Bound to serve 80 students in Gadsden County and 60 in Jackson County beginning in the 2022-23 school year.
DeOnte Brown said CARE will use the new funds to hire additional staff members and to provide student experiences in Gadsden and Jackson counties, including college tours and ACT/SAT prep and college planning workshops.
“Those are big pieces of the college-going process, allowing students to actually see themselves on a college campus,” he said.