By Lillian Mongeau
Over the past few weeks dozens of teens from western states have been studying math and biology in Santa Cruz as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound program. The goal of the program is to get low-income students and “first generation” students into college. Lillian Mongeau has the story of one participant who says Upward Bound is just the helping hand she needs:
Monique MacDaniels has just met the people she’s about to live with for the next four weeks with and she’s beating them at cards.
“Champion!” she says playfully. “Who wants to play me?”
Monique is sixteen. She’s from Chico, California. She has an easy smile and perfect posture. Her arms and shoulders are muscular from performing on a competitive cheerleading team back home. Today, she’s one of about a dozen teenagers arrayed around a coffee table in the common room of a residence hall at U.C. Santa Cruz. It’s day one of Math and Science Upward Bound, a month-long academic program to give low-income kids a boost on their way to college.
“People may think we’re nerds or we’re not that cool, but we’re all having fun right now. So we’re obviously kind of cool,” she says.
Coach Tiffany Hayes definitely thinks Monique is cool. She runs the Chico Cheer All-stars. She says Monique is one of her best athletes and one of her hardest workers.
“People really look up to her on the team,” Hayes says, “even the older kids look up to her. She’s very self-sufficient. She participates in everything we do at the gym, whether it’s mandatory or not.”
The Necessity of Self-Reliance
That self-sufficiency and stellar work ethic have been born out of necessity. Monique is a foster kid. She’s never met her biological parents. She was adopted at age three by the family who was fostering her. Then, as she put it, “things didn’t work out.”
“I had to grow up way too fast and witness things I shouldn’t have. But those things did make me who I am. Those things matured me faster and made me a dynamic person.”
One of the constants for Monique has always been school.
“It’s one thing that’s completely me, it has nothing to do with where I am living, who I am living with, what’s going on. I can always take my books and go outside, take them to a friend’s house, I can do them in my room. School, I think, really shows you who you are and how determined you are about your life.”
Three years ago, Monique settled in with a foster family she clicked with. Her foster mother’s encouragement is one reason she’s at Math and Science Upward Bound. A week and half into the program, Monique’s back in the common room, this time for class. A small laptop is propped on her knees. She’s trying to work out a college schedule that would meet all the requirements for freshman year.
The Nitty-Gritty of College Life
“I’m trying to make this schedule, but I’m trying to leave time for me to study or, you know, eat. … You think ‘Oh, in college you can take whatever classes you want, it’s easy.’ It’s not that easy.”
Monique says she hadn’t thought about the small things that can make college a challenge, like leaving time to walk across a sprawling campus from one class to another. Her instructor, Julia Ramirez, says too many of these small confusions can spell disaster for a first generation college student.
“Look at all these, there’s like 100 English classes,” Monqiue says.
“Yeah,” Julia responds, “that’s why it’s always good to talk to your counselor because they’ll guide you to what classes you need to take and just keep on top of it.”
“Did you go to your counselor a lot?”
“Yeah. She’s like my best friend,” Julia says, laughing. “But, I mean, after the first year you get a hang of what classes you want to take and it won’t be so hard.”
Monique thinks this program could make or break her chances of success in college. She’s grateful for it. And she wants taxpayers to know it’s worth it.
“While they are helping the youth of my generation in the next generation that youth will soon grow up to support them; it’s a circle,” Monique says. “All the kids here I can definitely vouch want to do something with their lives. If they didn’t they would have never signed up to spend a month of their summer in a college program.”
Monique’s current career goal is to be a life coach.