Bounding back


Freddie Young, Upward Bound seniors counselor, reads off the list of rules during the Spring 2008 Kick-Off and Orientation for the Upward Bound program at UF's Little Hall on Thursday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Upward Bound is back in business, and "Miss Freddie" is laying down the law.

"Pants and shorts with written messages on the back, we ain't accepting those," Freddie Young, an Upward Bound counselor, told a group of students at a Thursday night orientation. "Let them know (by your clothes) you're gonna be doctors, lawyers and teachers. Don't come in here acting like hoodlums. You want to be a hoodlum, go to New York."

In her 30 years as a counselor for Upward Bound, a college preparation program for low-income high schoolers, Young's list of "no no's" has gotten longer:

No iPods.

No cell phones.

No baggy pants that fall halfway below the waist.

But while times have changed, one thing has remained constant: Young and others believe Upward Bound is the best chance some of these students - mostly black - have to make it in life. That's why Upward Bound supporters were so distraught just a few months ago, when the program that's existed at the University of Florida for 36 years lost federal funding.

But the nearly 80 students in UF's Upward Bound, buoyed by their parents and teachers, rose up in protest to rescue the program. The accomplishment - a restoration of $353,503 a year in federal dollars - was the result of a grassroots effort the students and their families aren't likely to soon forget.

Alongside her friends and family, 17-year-old Mariah Smith participated in a petition drive, lobbying Congress to restore the funds. Now in her third year of the program, Smith says she felt lost in the fall when it was shut down due to the budget cut.

"It was like part of us was missing," Smith said.

Upward Bound was established under the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Government Higher Education Act in 1965 to help give Americans "a hand up, not a handout."

At Thursday night's orientation, held in Little Hall on UF's campus, Upward Bound students were shown a video filled with black and white images of Johnson signing the act into law. The rather sanitized program also made mention of racial barriers that prevented black students from attending college in the Jim Crow era, but the starkest images of the days of segregation came from Freddie Young's own testimony.

"I couldn't go to the high school in Hawthorne," said Young, now a teacher at Lake Forest Elementary School. "I was bused from Island Grove, 36 miles one way to Lincoln High School. You have all this information, you have all the textbooks, you have all the technology. You should be making straight A's every day. If I'd had this opportunity when I was in school, I would have Clarence Thomas' job."

It is the straight talk that counselors like Young provide that wins students over, and actually has them excited to - perish the thought - go to school on Saturday.

Students who participate in Upward Bound arrive each Saturday morning for three-hour sessions, where they are drilled on reading, math, science and, of course, the ever-dreaded Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

Juliun Kinsey, a 16-year-old junior at Loften High School, says coming to Upward Bound takes commitment, but it sure doesn't feel like work.

"The teachers are cool," he said. "The staff is cool, and we've all learned to become friends."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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