Curtis Kunde said he could be getting more hours at his ice cream parlor job if he wasn’t attending Upward Bound Summer Academy, a federally funded summer school run by Clatsop Community College.
But the impact of his schooling isn’t lost on Kunde, a Seaside High School student who recently used the sign language he learned at the academy to communicate with a group of deaf customers.
“It’s happened once this year, once last year,” Kunde said. “And there’s a big difference for me, being able to communicate to them.”
Kunde is one of nearly 30 students from Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside attending the academy, a combination of academic refreshers, a foreign language crash course, outdoor community projects, field trips and college exploration.
The academy is funded by TRIO, a nationwide network of educational opportunity programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Upward Bound provides about 70 students in Clatsop County intensive advice and academic support. The less-intensive Talent Search provides information, college visits and application assistance to more than 600 students in the sixth to 12th grades.
Students in the summer academy spend their mornings in class studying math, English and a foreign language. Jon Graves, the academy’s director, said that after French, German and Spanish, students were asking for American Sign Language. In 2013, sign language displaced German as the third most popular non-English language course taken in college after Spanish and French, according to the Modern Language Association.
“Some students do better with visual languages,” said Patrick McConahay, an instructor.
McConahay, who has taught at the college for more than 20 years, took students this summer through numbers, colors, commerce and other conversational basics of signing, finishing his class with a silent game of Go Fish.
Local teachers pitch the summer academy several afternoon projects for students. This year, students are preparing a stand-up comedy routine, a visitor booklet for the Astoria Riverwalk and a photography exhibit.
Students in Brian Vollner’s Creatures of the Columbia program have been visiting parks around the county, compiling photos and samples of local plants and animals as source material for a 30-foot-wide mural inspired by the style of Charley Harper, an American modernist artist known for his wildlife prints. The mural will be drawn in chalk near the Barbey Maritime Center.
Most of the students in Vollner’s project were attracted by their interest in nature and art. Students will incorporate their individual sketches into a mural of stacked circles, each a different size and reprinting a different level of life on the North Coast.
“We’re taking all the different places we’ve been to and combining it, so it’s not just defining Cullaby Lake or just that one park,” Alexis Miller, of Astoria, said. “It’s bringing it all together, so it’s unique.”
The mural, comedy routines, booklets and photos will all be on display during a public finale for the academy from 6 to 7 p.m. July 18 at the maritime center.
Each Friday, students go on field trips to a ropes course, local state parks and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. They will spend the final week of the academy living in dorms at Southwest Oregon Community College, learning about estuaries and nearshore environments at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston.
“The kids have said for many years that they want a residential component, so we’ll give them a week living in dorms, eating at the cafeteria,” Graves said.
College is a fair bet for many students involved in Upward Bound. Students in the program averaged a 98 percent high school graduation rate between 2013 and last year, compared to 75 percent or less overall at Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside. Nearly 80 percent of high school graduates in Upward Bound last year started college the following fall, compared to 61 percent of county graduates overall.
The Upward Bound program begins recruiting in the fall at local high schools and through the college.