By Tony Gutierrez: Freedom Newspapers
Members of the baking club were stirring the s’mores brownie batter when the smell of something burning rose from the oven. Natasha Sharp opened the oven door to find the graham cracker crust burnt.
Sharp and her fellow club members are part of Upward Bound, a federally funded program designed to help high school students graduate and prepare for college.
Eastern New Mexico University is one of the participating universities throughout the country. There are 60 spots at ENMU.
“They try to put you in the class you’re going to be in next year so you’ll have a head start,” said Sharp, a Clovis High School sophomore. “You don’t have your parents holding your hand all the way.”
The program, created during the 1960s, is for first-generation college-bound students or students who come from low-income families. Although it has a main summer session, it meets every other Saturday throughout the school year.
“We meet people from other areas, not just from Clovis,” said Yuridia Leyva, a Clovis High senior. “There’s nobody here I don’t talk to. Everyone’s just close.”
The students live in dorms with staff members. The program offers classes in math, science, English, a foreign language, physical education and an elective.
“A lot of students don’t realize the opportunities they have,” Upward Bound director Susan Cramp said.
Isabel Guerrero, an ENMU senior, is part of the staff at Upward Bound and came through the program when she was in high school.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be here since I was in their shoes before,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the program has changed since she went through it.
“The homework is not as bad as it used to be,” she said. “I remember we had tons of homework when I was in the program.”
Juan Rivas, another Upward Bound alumnus, will graduate in the fall from ENMU with a history degree.
“I interact just by hanging out with them,” Rivas said. “I let them know how it used to be in Upward Bound.”
Clovis High sophomore Kayleen Madrid said her mom made her participate in the program at first, but now she’s made plenty of friends.
“It just started getting fun and I started meeting everybody,” Madrid said. “It’s like a family here. We just all connect.”
Miguel Vega, a Texico High senior, is also new to the program and said he enjoys it because the classes help him get ahead and because of the friends he’s made.
“Sure it takes some of your time, but I think it’s worth it for your future,” Vega said.
Unlike the remaining 33 students in the program, Tasha Ulibarri is one of seven who are taking college courses as bridge students.
“They don’t care if you go to class or not,” Ulibarri said. “It’s more on your own. It’s not like the help you get in high school.”
Cramp said the bridge students have the same expectations and curfews as regular students, but the program pays their tuition for summer classes.
“We get extra privileges, like we can have our cell phones during the day and we can come back to the hall between classes; the other kids can’t,” Ulibarri said.
She said she is taking a jewelry class, health/physical education and an online history class.
Daniel Martinez, a Clovis High sophomore, said he didn’t remember the Oklahoma City bombing because he was 4 years old when it happened. That’s why he was fascinated when the group went on a trip to Oklahoma City to see the memorial.
“That was probably the best part of the trip because I actually learned something I didn’t know,” Martinez said.
Cramp said the program usually takes a large trip, such as to Washington, D.C., every other year, and the other years, two smaller trips. This year, the students will also go to Amarillo.
“The purpose of the trips is for academic and cultural enrichment,” Cramp said. “We try to expose them to things they can’t get at Eastern New Mexico.”
Since Upward Bound programs are not allowed to recruit for their respective schools, they tour other college campuses when they go on their trips.
Matthew Gordillo, Upward Bound coordinator and art instructor, bought various action figures from a local thrift store, cut them up, and let the students put different pieces together with hot glue to make their own action figures.
“I think for this class, a majority of the students are not looking to be artists for a career, so the base is to help them think creatively and outside the box,” Gordillo said.
Students work on individual projects such as wood sculptures, painting or photography.
“Everything you consider art is art,” Vega said. “You pretty much have your own imagination.”
Mark Douglass, a Portales High senior, said his project was to make a wood sculpture of a flower. Gordillo said he cuts the wood for safety reasons, but the students instruct him with the designs.
“I’ll probably do more photography,” said Daniel Perez, also a Portales senior. “I’ve gotten a couple of pictures, but we’re supposed to get five and only two of them were decent pictures.”
Foreign language class
Stephanie Vega, a Texico High senior, said Spanish is the only foreign language offered in her high school, so she chose to take Swahili this summer.
“I already know Spanish, so it would have been a blow-off class,” she said. “I can’t do that to myself. I have to push myself.”
The students not only learn the language, but also about the culture of the people who speak the language.
“One of the songs we learned was ‘Jambo’ and he (the instructor) started dancing and the rest of us got into it,” Douglass said. “When they get married, they have to exchange cows with the parents to show good graces.”
Susan Cramp said she didn’t expect the surprise cupcakes and gelatin with candles during lunch Friday to commemorate her birthday the next day.
“Ever since I started working with Upward Bound, I haven’t been able to spend my birthday with my family, but I get to celebrate with Upward Bound, which is my extended family,” Cramp said.
Joanna Beard, a resident assistant for the program and graduate student at ENMU, planned the surprise. Since Cramp prefers sugar-free gelatin to cake, she planned to make Jell-O gelatin.
“I bought a big mixing bowl and a whole bunch of Jell-O packets,” Beard said. “When I got up this morning, the Jell-O mold was so big, it broke in half, so I bought cupcakes and put Jell-O in the middle.”
Staff and students also made an 11-by-17-inch card out of posterboard and construction paper and signed all their names to give to Cramp.