#10: Responding To A Crisis — April Rice, Director of the Upward Bound program at the Cowen Institute — A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19

This is the 10th in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools and programs are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

In this edited Q&A, we continue our updates on how the programs at the Cowen Institute are responding to the COVID crisis. This is an interview with April Rice, the Director of Upward Bound, a college-readiness and completion program at the Cowen Institute.

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For those who are unfamiliar, can you describe your program and the services that you provide, as well as the number of individuals that you serve?

Tulane University’s Upward Bound, a college-readiness and completion program at the Cowen Institute, offers high impact, high quality supplemental college-readiness support to more than 100 first-generation students from low-income backgrounds in New Orleans each year. Our mission is to instill the skills and motivation necessary for participants to complete a robust program of secondary education and to enter and succeed in a program of postsecondary education.

A sample programming overview includes the following:

  • Rigorous Academic Programs
  • Cultural Events
  • Instruction and Exploration in College Readiness Curriculums
  • Assistance Completing College Applications
  • Financial Aid Workshops
  • Weekly One on One Tutoring
  • Academic, Financial, and Personal Counseling
  • ACT Preparation & STEM Courses
  • College Exploration Tours
  • 6-Week Intensive Summer Program
  • College Summer Bridge Program
  • Paid Internships

How has COVID impacted your ability to provide services?

Upward Bound is a year-round program that meets on a weekly basis to deliver innovative programming. Due to the closure and nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, all weekly, in person contact and support has been cancelled. We have moved all programming to a virtual platform and increase our number of contacts per week per student to support them in this unique time.

Have you had to shut down or dramatically change any aspects of your program due to the quarantine?

Yes, since all of our programming is in person, we’ve transitioned to complete remote learning and virtual activities. It has changed 100% of our program.

How are you communicating with participants in your program right now?

Students are contacted on weekly basis through a variety of ways: weekly emails sent each Monday with announcements, resources, updates. Staff have divided out participants based on grade level to have regular touch points with each of them. We have moved Saturday Workshops to virtual environment using Zoom and Google classroom with great participation along with online and mobile tutoring support. All staff is assigned a senior caseload with frequent check-ins to ensure on-target, continual traction in preparing them to enter college in Fall 2020.

How often are you reaching out to them?

Weekly. We have had over 350 individual contacts in the last month of Upward Bound participants.

When you are interacting with the participants in your program, how are they adjusting to the crisis?

They are in good spirits. They are exhausted from the inconsistency and amount of remote learning with little support from teachers and school administrators. They have many questions and no answers. Each teacher is different in requirements, grades, etc. and it’s causing some students to give up. Many are struggling to find part-time employment for the summer; however, Upward Bound is offering a virtual paid internship program this summer to help off-set this concern.

What are the most common services or assistance that your participants need at this point and what are you providing?

We provide weekly emails with information on resources, as needed. In addition, our weekly touch points and active communication (text, email, phone call, zoom calls, etc.) have helped with understanding need. Our students are still navigating needs around technology from reliable internet to access and updated laptops. We have created a system for students to borrow a laptop and/or calculator over the summer to participate in the UB virtual summer program and complete any required summer school.

A priority right now is supporting the Class of 2021 with ACT prep. With the March state test cancelled, many juniors will start their senior year without taking the ACT yet. This is a critical component that we are actively addressing in order for them to have full access and opportunity to post-secondary options. We are working with our ACT teacher to offer live review sessions, 1:1 tutoring through remote platforms, and summer review sessions ahead of the scheduled June test.

Are participants able to complete the educational components of your program during the quarantine?

Yes, students have full access to our new virtual program. Upward Bound will offer its traditional 6-week summer program this summer remotely through virtual platforms and online learning that will include:

  • Live Academic Classes in Math and English
  • Coding w/Robotics and Chemistry Lab through virtual learning and resources.
  • 3-day College Camp (Remotely)
  • Virtual Internship program with a $900 stipend
  • Virtual ‘Study Abroad’ exploration component with foreign language infused into the learning.
  • College level, credit bearing science and math courses remotely through a partnership with Tulane Pre-College program.
  • Weekly Virtual College Tours will replace our traditional summer travel.

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