Using Books to Keep Students "Upward Bound"
Story posted November 30, 2001
A book can change a life, and staff of Bowdoin's Upward Bound program are hoping that a new reading series will help students in the program as they grapple with their own issues of identity and a path for their future.
"Minds in Motion" is a series of readings and seminars, whose theme is "From Maine/From Away." One of the three discussion groups will meet at Bowdoin this weekend. Bowdoin professor Ann Kibbie and Freeport teacher Peggy Muir will lead the group.
Upward Bound serves about 100 students in three distinct regions in Maine - northern Aroostook County, Washington County, and selected mill towns in southern Maine. The program motivates and prepares economically disadvantaged high school students for higher education. All of the students in Bowdoin's program will be the first in their families to attend college. The reading and discussion series is optional, but about half the students in the program have decided to participate; they will meet once a month.
The seminars originated with the desire to provide a reading enrichment activity for the students. "We wanted our students to read more, and to read outside of school," said Bridget Mullen, Director of Upward Bound.
It also provides a way to strengthen the social and intellectual bonds that grew among the students as they studied in Brunswick last summer. The students forge friendships over the six weeks they spend studying at Bowdoin, but generally don't see each other during the year.
"There's that energy that we wanted to tap into," Mullen said.
Issues of place and identity are particularly important to these students as they consider where to attend college. The counselors of Upward Bound hope the students will eventually choose a college that seems the best fit for them, not a college that is close to home.
"They are all, hopefully, considering colleges that would inevitably mean they would leave home for some period of time," Mullen said. Yet being away from home can be difficult for the students. "We know our students struggle with homesickness," she said, "Coming to Brunswick during the summer and living here for six weeks is a huge step."
Preparing students to make this choice means helping them to understand their feelings about the place they're from, what it means to be from that place and also to gain and appreciation of what it means to be from someplace else. Students will first read a book that concerns the region they are from. The group from Aroostook County will read and discuss Cathie Pelletier's novel The Funeral Makers; the students from Washington County will read Elizabeth Gilbert's novel Stern Men; and the students from southern Maine will reach Richard Russo's novel Empire Falls.
Reading these books will allow the students to discuss what their "home" means to them and how others see it. Reading an author's impression of their own home will also prepare them to use discretion in responding to an author's description of another city, state or country.
Students will next reach Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. This story concerns the life of the Ibo in the face of white missionary intrusion. At the first meeting, students will choose additional books to read throughout this school year.
Minds in Motion is a result of a $5000 grant from the Maine Humanities Council with support from the New Century Community Program and the national Endowment for the Humanities. The grant covers many expenses associated with the series, but not the cost of the books. Upward Bound is purchasing the books for the students, but Mullen said she hopes a benefactor, either corporate or individual, will be found to help cover the costs of books in the future.
More information about Upward Bound can be found at the Upward Bound Web page.
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