For more than 20 years, Communities in Schools of San Antonio has operated a federally-funded program called Upward Bound at South San Antonio High School. Upward Bound’s aim is to help prepare students from low-income families for college and support them once they’re there.
But this summer Communities in Schools received bad news: The U.S. Department of Education would not be renewing the five year, $400,000 grant that supported the program.
Without the grant, Communities in Schools had to let the two Upward Bound staff members embedded at the high school go before the start of this school year, said Lauren Geraghty, director of strategic impact initiatives for the local nonprofit.
“Initially we were shocked and upset and very concerned about the students who had already invested — especially the juniors and seniors — so much time and effort into this program,” Geraghty said. “And then we decided we would look at it as more of an opportunity. I think, as many people know, with federal grants comes a lot of strings.”
Geraghty said Communities in Schools has received almost $340,000 from private donors, corporations and foundations, including the Search Institute, the Mays Family Foundation, Guido Brothers Construction, Whataburger, Toyota and Wells Fargo, enabling the organization to finance a college readiness program at the high school for the next three years.
“We’re very grateful, especially coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday, for the community support,” Geraghty said. “It really has been San Antonio coming together to support some of our most at-risk youth.”
South San Antonio High School Principal Lee Hernandez said the return of the program is “tremendous news” for his campus because Communities in Schools exposes students, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to college. He said the program’s trips to in-state and out-of-state colleges have especially had an impact.
“They’re able to do some things that we aren’t able to do as a campus, with that funding and those support pieces in place. So the more hands we can have on deck, definitely the better off we are,” Hernandez said.
Volunteers have run some test prep and college application support sessions this fall, filling some of the gaps left by the absence of the Upward Bound staff, but it hasn’t been on the same level, Geraghty said.
“Starting this school year things looked a little different because we didn’t have the funds to do Saturday school right off the bat, or to start working on the ACT/SAT prep initially, or the FAFSA filled out,” said Geraghty of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. “(Now) we have the funds to thoughtfully put together a program that is tailored to the needs of the South San students and community.”
Communities in Schools will partner with South San Antonio families to decide the best use of the funds.
In the past, the program exposed high schoolers to college life with a summer camp. Staff also helped students catch up academically with Saturday school, offered SAT and ACT prep sessions, and helped students apply for college.