Not many teenagers can say they have seen the First Lady of the United States in person, but for six students in Bevill State Community College’s Upward Bound Program, hearing Michelle Obama speak was the highlight of a recent trip to Washington D.C. The students participated in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Summer Learning Day June 20 where the first lady was in attendance.
Reshad Clay, Autumn Logan, Ashley Lovett, Mahlon Odom, Megan Parker, and Ashley Tran, all students in the college’s Upward Bound program joined Directors Donna Swinney and Gina Thomason and Project Coordinators Katelin Bell and Jill Preuninger in what one student described as, “the trip of a lifetime.”
“I experienced more in three days than most people experience in their entire lifetime. I rode a plane for the first time, met Holocaust survivors (at the Holocaust Museum), and met the First Lady,” said Logan.
According to Swinney, the students were selected to participate in the event based on information submitted to the Department of Education. “We were requested to send information about the activities we are doing with students during the summer. The ideas were to be shared with the First Lady of the United States Higher Education Team to show how federal funds were being utilized in local areas.” The programs Financial Fridays, Biology and Anatomy, and International Culture and Language were selected.
Financial Fridays is an agreement between the Hamilton Upward Bound program and local financial institutions in the college’s service area. Students spend Fridays volunteering and receiving financial literacy training such as how to balance checkbooks, open checking accounts, start savings accounts, and ways to save money for college. For the Biology and Anatomy components of the summer program, students learn how to compare biological structures and functions by dissecting various animals, insects, and flowers as part of the core curriculum instruction and enrichment through access to Bevill State’s biology lab.
The Sumiton Campus’ International Culture & Language Course promotes awareness and appreciation of other cultures to Upward Bound students. The class concentrates on India, Latin American, and East Asian countries. Students study cultural and ethnic etiquette, cuisine, basic conversational language, politics, fashion, film, and the global impact these nations have on the world and Alabama.
The students demonstrated sections of each summer program as part of the National Summer Learning Day event. The event brought high school students and education leaders from across the country to highlight the critical role summer learning plays in preparing young people for successful college entry and completion.
“We witnessed our students take the initiative to talk about our program with students from other programs, employees from the Department of Education, media and others. We saw the excitement on their faces from listening to the first lady and getting to shake her hand. The students did an outstanding job of representing our program. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Thomason.
For Lovett, being able to discuss her knowledge with the first lady was daunting at first. “When it came to giving the presentation to the First Lady, I was nervous, but when she rounded the corner to speak, I wasn’t as nervous as I had been. She said that she was proud of us and that she liked our presentation. While she gave her speech, she mentioned things we had said to her. It just meant that she cared and listened to what we had to say,” said Lovett.
In addition to participating in National Summer Learning Day, the students and sponsors also toured the Holocaust Museum, visited the Smithsonian Museums of Natural and American History, and took a walking tour of the National Mall. Congressman Robert Aderholt conducted a tour of the Capitol for the group.
“This trip was a life-awakening event for all involved. Meeting the first lady and sharing our program ideas with her is something that you read about, but these students actually experienced this feeling,” said Swinney. “This is one of the proudest days in my professional career. I always tell the Upward Bound students that hard work pays off.”
Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.
Upward Bound students Mahlon Odom, Reshad Clay & Ashley Tran
Left to right – Upward Bound students Megan Parker, Autumn Logan, Ashley Lovett and First Lady Michelle Obama