“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” says Jon Graves. “Students I have worked with are now nurses, getting Ph.Ds or in Japan teaching English. They have gone to college, they have succeeded and are giving back. That is really satisfying.”
Graves is the director of pre-college programs at Clatsop Community College. For 12 years he has guided students through the maze of college applications and tests to prepare them for a successful future. Two federal programs, Upward Bound and Talent Search, are the main focus of his work.
Upward Bound and Talent Search are programs introduced by President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1965 to get low-income students through high school and into college. The goal was to combat generations of poverty.
Both programs are designed for students who are from low-income households or whose parents have not earned a bachelor’s degree, or both. They are guided on a path to finish high school and be the first generation in their family to receive a college education.
The college has embraced the programs since the early 1990s. Around 75 percent of the students begin college and about 40 percent earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, Graves says.
During the summer, students created a professional-looking video about the Upward Bound program at the college: bit.ly/W2Wupward
In Clatsop County, 671 students are participating in the Talent Search program that targets sixth- to 12th-graders. Upward Bound has 73 students from ninth to 12th grade. Eight staff members and school counselors work with students at Knappa, Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside.
The sister programs work with the same caseload of students.
“We help get kids through high school, which can be a crazy time,” Graves says.
“Building relationships is huge. One of the best things to help students succeed is to build relationships with them so they know there is always an adult in their corner. Unfortunately, not all students have that support.”
Talent Search and Upward Bound host field trips to colleges, throwing together 30 to 40 students from different schools.
“Relationships between the students in the different schools is just phenomenal,” Graves says.
“It is fun to watch kids interact with each other. They have opinions about other schools. When the field trip begins, kids from each school sit together in their own section of the bus. By the end of the trip, everyone is spread out and talking to each other, exchanging phone numbers.
“It is amazing to see how it broadens their support group in Clatsop County and brings down some of the barriers that are artificially imposed on everyone because of what school they go to. It’s just great.”
Focus on goals
During the school year, Talent Search works with high school and middle school students. Goal-setting is one of the fundamental steps of college preparation. Staff conduct workshops on study skills and encourage students to pay attention to their grades and make sure they get the right credits to graduate. As Graves says, everything matters.
The programs help students and parents with scholarship information and filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), letting them know what documents and information they will need to prepare the application.
“We work with parents to let them know which loans are available and which loans are better,” he says. “We don’t want them to take too much money out in loans. It might be better to go to community college and live at home for two years, then transfer to a four-year college, because community college is free in Oregon if you graduate and have a 2.5 GPA.”
Sue Cody is communications lead for The Way to Wellville Clatsop County. She is the former deputy managing editor of The Daily Astorian.