Socially distanced Santa visits Upward Bound students

It was a rainy December morning, but Santa was full of his usual Christmas spirit Saturday as TRIO Upward Bound students picked up a special treat from the program.

The Hope College program that aims to help high school students improve academically and socially and eventually graduate college has been virtual most of the year. Typically, at this time of year, there would be a big party with students, their families, and program workers, Director Liz Colburn says.

“We’ve had to retool, to think differently,” she says.

However, there were plenty of smiles and good cheer as parents drove their students to one of three TRIO Upward Bound target schools (Holland, West Ottawa, and Fennville high schools) to pick up a special holiday treat of a gingerbread house kit along with a goodie bag of other delights.

“Have you been naughty or nice?” Santa asked each teen with an added “Ho, ho, ho!”

The gift ties into a session on communication the students had earlier this month.

Permanent additions

Just like everywhere else, 2020 and COVID-19 have made things a little more interesting for TRIO Upward Bound. However, it isn’t all bad. Some changes put in place because of COVID restrictions have become permanent additions to the program.

Friday fun with food has been popular, Colburn says. Staff dropped off ingredients to kids’ homes for a virtual cooking class. And the “Monday Lunch and Learn” — while virtual — has allowed leaders such as Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks and Hope College President Matthew Scogin to present to dozens of students at once on the year’s theme, Agents of Change.

Virtual tutoring is likely to continue as well, Colburn says.

TRIO Upward Bound is a pre-college preparatory program for students grades 9 through 12 who are interested in pursuing an educational program beyond high school. Many of the students are from first-generation college-bound and low-income families. The program helps students successfully complete high school and explore post-secondary education and possible careers. For details or to apply, visit the TRIO Upward Bound website.

“I’ve been struggling with grades since I was little, but then I entered Upward Bound, and that changed,” says Cindy Bahena, a 10th-grader at West Ottawa High School.

She was always afraid to ask questions in class, but Upward Bound helped her with that, too. She was thrilled to see her TRIO Upward Bound mentors and receive a holiday treat Saturday.

“It’s really cool they’re taking the time out of their day to help us,” she says.
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