By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Turning potential into progress. It’s been the goal of the Upward Bound program for more than half a century, giving smart, first-generation students the support they need to not just dream about college — but, to get there.

“She didn’t know like exactly how to apply for colleges, exactly how to sign up for FAFSA, exactly what tests you need to take to actually get accepted into colleges,” said Anika Larzea of Dallas about the mother who wanted the best for her children but wasn’t certain of how to access those opportunities. “Stuff she didn’t know how to do, they also taught them. They had parent workshops.”

So, no, Larzea won’t be sleeping late this summer. The Upward Bound scholar is spending six weeks on the campus of SMU– paving the pathway to college with hard work, and a plan.

“I have English composition. I have Spanish. I have calculus. I have physics. I have career planning,” said Larzea, reciting her rigorous list of coursework this summer. “And KOC: keeping your eyes on college.”

Larzea will graduate from Dallas’ Carter High School with the class of 2019. But, she’s been a part of Upward Bound since her freshman year. She said she enjoys the academically-challenging summers but appreciates that Saturday support that continues even when the school year begins.

“I want to go to Texas A&M in College Station,” she added with a enthusiastic smile. “That’s my number-one school.”

Upward Bound, a college-access program created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty,” helps first-generation students access college opportunities. SMU has hosted the program for 50 years now, and supporters there say the program works and is still very much needed.

“They don’t know how. They don’t know how to go and ask; but, this program sets the tone,” said Jessica Stigers, SMU’s Upward Bound director. And Stigers should know. When she said she once sat in those same seats — she means it. She was once an Upward Bound student.

“It put me in the environment with other students that had the same goals that I did,” said Stigers. “We were all one big family trying to get to the next level.”

According to SMU, upwards of 90 percent of Upward Bound students will go on to college. And that’s roughly double the state average. What’s more, Stigers said students go on to become education ambassadors, as well.

“You’re able to go and teach your sister, you’re able to go and teach your brother, your friend what it takes to get to college. Not only is it helping our students, it’s helping our parents and the community, also,” said Stigers.

Universities hosting the program aren’t allowed to treat it as a recruitment tool. Supporters at SMU said only a fraction of the Upward Bound students will ultimately attend college on the familiar campus. They say the goal is for students to attend the college that fits their dreams.

“It’s an amazing program,” said Larzea.

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