Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger Newark Mayor Cory Booker answers questions during his visit to the media and broadcast class. Students of Upward Bound, a federal summer program to expose lower income teens to the college environment, met Mayor Cory Booker as part of a mock interview for young, aspiring journalists while at NJIT. (Aristide Economopoulos/
N.J. teens in Upward Bound program quiz Newark Mayor Cory Booker on education, community
NEWARK — Looking more like college graduates at a career fair than high schoolers at summer camp, the group of teens from Newark, Irvington and East Orange were dressed in their Sunday best milling around a conference hall at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker then walked in, jumped on a table, cracked a few jokes, and delivered one of his high-impact speeches. The students were part of Upward Bound — a decades-old, federal program that helps talented teens from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in high school and enroll — and complete — college.
The event was part of a media class some of the students took during the five-week program while living on NJIT’s campus.
“Let’s make a rule right now, you guys can ask me about anything you want,” Booker told them. “From what I think about the debt ceiling debate that’s going on in Washington to why I’m not married.”
But the students, ages 15 to 17, preferred to quiz the mayor on education and their community. They asked about his support of charter schools, his plans for Newark and his advice to them. The mock interview quickly turned into a pep talk, with Booker telling students to watch less TV, find true friends and pursue their ambitions with self-discipline.
“I liked the passion part of his speech,” said Annabel Bryant, 16, referring to Booker’s advice to chase vocation rather than money. “You should do what you love, not just follow other people.”
Bryant, who was born in Liberia and lives in Newark, says she wants to go to college and become a pediatrician. She has been an Upward Bound student for three years and saw her Bs and Cs turn into mostly As.
Jasmine James, 16, also of Newark, said she appreciated the mayor’s insistence on staying focused and pushing hard. Booker told the students he started writing down is life goals as a sophomore in high school and that while a student at Stanford University he went to the library until 11 p.m. every weekend night, before joining his friends at parties. Upward Bound’s students summer schedule is also intense — with classes from 8.25 a.m. to 5.10 p.m. and evening study time. The students go home every weekend.
“You have to do hard things to achieve your goals,” said James, whose mother dropped out of school when she had her and is now going back. “And when your goal finally comes it will be worth you studying at night and all that hard work.”
Upward Bound — launched in 1965 by the Department of Education — has supported hundreds of thousands of students through high school. The program offers academic assistance to low-income students who are the first in their families to go to college, including on-campus summer programs and year-long Saturday classes, as well as support after the students graduate high school.
NJIT is one of 11 New Jersey universities who participated in 2010 — serving a total of 923 students.
“We make sure that not only they enroll in college but that they graduate college,” said Anthony Culpepper, assistant director of Upward Bound at NJIT and a 1976 alum of the program. Culpepper, who grew up in Newark, said he used to walk across the NJIT campus on his way home from Central High School but that he never thought he would one day go to college. He went to Rutgers University.
“This program makes you see what college is about. Students get to live a campus life just like college students.”
Tyler Hughes, 16, of Irvington, agreed.
“The work is hard but I think it really pushes you towards college, you can see into the future,” he said, adding that he hopes to study physics, mechanical or audio engineering. “My friends would call me crazy or ridiculous for doing this, they believe I’m wasting time. But they’re hanging around the house doing nothing while I get to hear the mayor speak.”
Although an institution of sort, Upward Bound — which is subject to discretionary funding voted in congress — is regularly threatened by cuts. In 2010, the program served 77,000 students nationwide. But that year’s $306 million budget was cut to $293 for 2011. Upward Bound spends about $ 5,000 per year on each student.
“The need far exceeds what we’re funded to serve. We get to only about 10 percent of the eligible population,” said Lavelle Burr-Alexander, director of NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs, which hosts 145 Upward Bound students on a $250,000 annual budget. “Nothing is guaranteed. Every year the budget is at risk. Every year we run into the potential of not having the program.”
But to the hundreds of thousands Upward Bound has affected and continues to affect, the program is life-changing.
“At first it was brutal. Imagine, it’s your first year in high school and you have to come here and do even more work?” said Raymond Clinkscale, 21, of Edison. Clinkscale stuck to it, graduated from high school and, recently, from Kean University. He returned to Upward Bound first as an assistant teacher and resident tutor and now as an instructor in the media class.
“You have to help students find their passions, show them things that they wouldn’t see on a regular basis,” Clinkscale said, adding that he made his students research Walter Cronkite. “When people see the same thing all the time, they think that’s all there is.”
CaseClosed2: What? No student asked Mayor Booker why he laid off so many police officers in the city of Newark and why the city is now so violent even in the downtown area?