Kiasha Smith may be the only member of her family to earn a four-year degree.
In 2010, Smith entered the ranks of 145 Youngstown high school graduates who went on to college.
The instrument in their success was Upward Bound, a Youngstown State University program that cultivates first-generation college students from low-income families in the Youngstown City School District.
Like Smith, every student in Upward Bound overcame adversity. She and the other Upward Bound students attended either Chaney or East high schools, or P. Ross Berry Middle School, all in a district where 42 percent of students live in poverty.
More than 40 percent of Smith’s classmates never graduated from high school.
But she did.
She now works as an office assistant at Upward Bound in Jones Hall. An allied health major and sophomore, Smith said that she aspires to have a lucrative career in an administrative hospital.
Smith is one of 78 Upward Bound graduates who have attended YSU since 2002.
Smith said her decision to attend YSU followed a series of six-week summer residential programs in Cafaro Hall between 2007 and 2009.
“It was a big deal,” Smith said. “It made me more confident to come to college because I got to experience it early.”
The college preparatory program is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Education. High school students receive after-school tutoring, attend bimonthly enrichment programs and make college visits.
YSU receives about nine students from the program each year.
Upward Bound secretary Jill Mogg said that all student services are free, and the program offers an attendance-based monthly stipend of $40, which offsets transportation costs.
Students who opt into the Upward Bound program are 50 percent more likely to graduate high school, according to Youngstown graduation rates from the Ohio Department of Education and statistics provided by Mogg.
Of the 145 program graduates who have went on to college, 30 have earned a degree and 65 are still enrolled, leaving 50 who attained high school diplomas but never finished postsecondary education, according to statistics provided by Upward Bound officials.
“The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which students graduate from their high school and enroll in college,” Mogg said.
The program operates on an annual $250,000 federal grant, employing three full-time and two part-time faculty members. Upward Bound is seeking a renewal of the five-year grant.
An average of nine undergraduate and graduate students from the Beeghly College of Education earn $8 an hour tutoring in the program.
The tutors are required to hold a 2.5 GPA in the coursework they teach.
In addition, resident assistants earn a $16,000 stipend during the six-week summer program.
Gabrielle Blake, interim coordinator, and other coordinators, provide instructional tutoring through lesson plans at the high schools.
Blake is a graduate of Kent State University and has Spanish tutoring experience with Warren City Schools. She also worked with children at a nonprofit organization. She feels her prior work experience has helped her transition smoothly to Upward Bound.
“We do progress reports for the students and try to keep them motivated,” Blake said.
Motivation is key. Attendance in the program is based on each student’s needs. Students are required to attend two weekly tutoring sessions if their grades drop below a C. All others attend once a week. The program participants average 85 percent attendance.
If students miss sessions or bimonthly Saturday enrichment programs, which run from 8 a.m. to noon, they are docked money from their monthly stipend.
If students fail to provide progress reports signed by their high school teachers, they risk a penalty similar to that of attendance infractions.
Shannon Sharp, an East High School junior, attends the after-school tutoring once a week.
“I have all A’s, so I only have to go one day a week,” Sharp said.
Kaleb Graham, an East High School sophomore, said he enjoys Upward Bound because he is able to get help with his homework after school.
Although Graham said he feels the Saturday enrichment program begins too early, he appreciates feeling more prepared on Monday.
Miesha Starkey, an East High School junior, attends after-school mathematics tutoring two days a week.
Starkey attends Choffin Career & Technical Center. Her post-secondary credits will transfer to YSU, where she plans to continue her education after spending the summer in Cafaro Hall while enrolled in Upward Bound.
“It was fun to be around college students, and it was different to be in a new environment for a change,” Starkey said.
She aspires to be a chef or businesswoman and is grateful for the program.
“You build a family here, and it’s a really good experience. Even with personal problems, these people are here to help you,” Starkey said.
Smith said the encouragement she received in Upward Bound has followed her through college.
“Stay in and stick through it the whole time because even after you come to YSU, the staff can give you advice and help,” Smith said.