“Upward Bound is such a special and empowering program, it gave me the ability to believe in myself and believe that life was still worth living for, so that I could wake up and do a job that I loved waking up to each day; one that was genuinely fulfilling, purposeful.” Says Julian Lugo, a sophomore at Hope College and former student at WO.
Founded in 1965, Upward Bound is a federally funded educational program; implemented and monitored by the United States Department of Education. The goal of Upward Bound is to provide certain categories of high school students better opportunities for attending college.
Second chances, so hard to come by but are so amazing to have. Many people are given second chances in relationships, in friendships, in workplaces, ect.- but the most empowering second chance to receive is after you give up, and you have the chance to get back up and start again. Here at West Ottawa High School, at the end of the year, Principal Todd Tulgestke gives an award to a senior who never gave up, despite the obstacles thrown at them. Upward Bound helps students overcome the obstacles in their way and give them the chance to go to college and to pursue their dreams.
West Ottawa alumni Julian Lugo was part of the Upward Bound Program for three years. “I started Upward Bound the summer before my sophomore year of high school and stuck it through until senior graduation,” Lugo said. When he first applied for Upward Bound, Lugo wasn’t fond of the idea. “I did not want to join Upward Bound and I even expressed that to Andrea and the director when I met them at the interview,” Lugo says. “I was going through a very tough time in my life and to join a program that would try to help me succeed, when I felt like I had no bright future or anything good waiting for me, was off of my radar or interest.”
However, Andrea Mireles, Student & Family Advocate and Associate Director for Upward Bound, saw something in Lugo. “I think from that, Andrea saw something good in me, deep in my heart, even though that ‘stubborn, broken-hearted boy’ didn’t show it externally, that I was the type of person they wanted to invest and believe in.”
Within the first year of being in the program, Lugo’s grades began to improve drastically. In his freshman year, the year before he joined the Upward Bound program, Lugo had a 2.5 GPA. Lugo joined Upward Bound the summer between freshman and sophomore year, and spent his sophomore year gradually building his GPA. At the end of his junior year, Lugo finished with a 4.0 GPA, and graduated the following year with a 4.1 GPA.
“When I ended my junior year with a 4.0 and my senior year with a 4.1 GPA, I cried tears of joy and happiness for my people and for every minority that was told they could never make something of themselves or weren’t good enough and to just quit; Upward Bound allowed me to beat every negative statistic that tried to make Hispanics seem incompetent, non-successful, or marginalized,” Lugo says with great pride. Thinking about the effect Upward Bound had on him gives Lugo chills, “It was such a beautiful transformation for myself and others around me to watch,” Lugo said.
“I knew from sitting in that chair at graduation that I was more than ready to conquer college,” Now majoring in worship arts with a psychology minor at Hope College, Lugo thanks the program for everything he was able to accomplish.
“I went from not believing in myself or wanting to join the program, to opening up my heart to heal as a person and grow as a student academically, to performing as well as the Valedictorian and the Salutatorians within the last two years of high school.”
Sr. Israel Solano joined Upward Bound in December of his sophomore year of high school. “I was actually not selected. I heard about it through some friends and decided to look into it,” Solano said. “I had dreams of going to college, and I had grades that were good enough to get in.” Although he didn’t struggle much academically, Solano agrees that Upward Bound helps him become college, career and life ready. “Upward Bound helped me a lot. It wasn’t so much the time set apart for homework that we regularly do, but instead, it was the countless college visits, help with the FAFSA, and extra classes we took in the summer, It prepared me for college readiness more than most of my friends because they started later than I did.”
There are many WO students that are part of Upward Bound, and because of that program they were able to graduate and go to college. It is because of this program, that “the broken-hearted boy” was given a chance to make something of himself. A chance to turn his life around. A chance to become the man he wanted to be. Upward Bound gave Solano a chance to follow his dream. A chance to go to college. West Ottawa High School’s motto is to make students “College, Career, and Life Ready”, and it is clear the Upward Bound truly helps make that happen.