Each summer, on a day in early July, more than 100 boys and their families convene at SLUH’s Joseph Schulte Theater for a special graduation ceremony. The middle school students are jittery with excitement, their parents smiling and snapping photos with pride. The celebration is the culmination of a fun, engaging and interactive full-day, four-week summer program known as Upward Bound Academy.
“It’s one of the best events throughout the entire year,” says Steve Missey ’88, Principal of UB8, the 8th grade division of Upward Bound. “The kids are so excited.”
Founded in 1966 at SLUH, Upward Bound prepares students for a college preparatory, high school curriculum by focusing on executive functioning, mindset and metacognitive skills. Throughout its history, more than 3,000 middle school boys—many African-Americans from the city—have participated in and benefited from Upward Bound.
Thomas Moore ’03, who grew up in Normandy in North St. Louis County and attended Ascension-St. Paul (now closed) for middle school, was in Upward Bound between seventh and eighth grade.
“Upward Bound was a good challenge and helped prepare me for high school,” says Moore. “It was especially helpful to get to know teachers and other students before freshman year. They made it easier and more comfortable coming in to an unfamiliar and competitive environment. This was a big deal for me as one of a handful of black students in my class.”
Moore adds that the opportunity to play bashball, a uniquely SLUH recreational game, was a fun activity that helped acquaint him with the U. High.
As an upperclassman at SLUH, Moore served as an Upward Bound mentor for two summers. He went on to earn a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. Today he is a senior software engineer at Microsoft and occasionally returns to his alma mater during the summer to serve as a mentor for Upward Bound.
“I still find myself benefiting from Upward Bound as a mentor, particularly with my writing skills,” says Moore. “The more I teach, the more I learn.”
Fr. Mark McKenzie, S.J. ‘56 and Fr. Tom Valiquette, S.J. started Upward Bound to help financially disadvantaged students develop and sharpen their learning skills for a Catholic, college prep education.
In the early years, the program provided a comprehensive six-week experience at a seminary in Warrenton, Mo. for rising eighth grade boys. Activities included academic, athletic, fine arts, recreational and spiritual components, and the students would stay overnight—boarding school style—every Monday through Friday. This allowed for study hall in the evenings.
When this six-week cycle was complete, students returned to SLUH to attend classes, which included Saturday sessions, for another six weeks. The entire program would culminate with the Catholic School Entrance Exam.
“It was a very challenging experience for the boys, but they were with mentors who really supported and championed them,” says Fr. Paul Sheridan, S.J., former SLUH President who helped lead Upward Bound in the late 1960s. “Most of them were minorities from poor families and sometimes violent neighborhoods. Upward Bound provided them a safe, nurturing environment where they could develop their gifts.”
Upward Bound grew to expand its offerings for students and eventually brought the entire program onto SLUH’s campus. When the Entrance Exam fell out of popularity, the program continued its mission of preparing boys for a Catholic college preparatory education.
From the late 1980s to the early ‘90s, Upward Bound experienced a shift in demographics, with primarily white suburban students participating in the program. This shift, coupled with SLUH’s Minority Action Plan (a Board-adopted initiative affirming the school’s commitment to the African-American community of St. Louis), compelled program leaders to refocus on the original mission of helping at-risk boys from the city. These efforts bore fruit, bringing African-Americans to nearly one-third of the program’s enrollment—a figure that continues today, with the addition of some Hispanic students.
To ensure Upward Bound remains accessible and affordable to all young men, SLUH generously subsidizes the program. The school also makes it available to all middle-schoolers—not just those who plan on attending SLUH. In fact, one of the program’s notable alumni is Patrick McCaw, who went to CBC before the NBA champion Golden State Warriors drafted him in 2016.
Upward Bound continues to be a staple at SLUH, regularly reaching registration capacity well before summertime. Yet program leaders continue to adapt and evaluate how to improve and better serve the young men in the metropolitan area.
UB7 & UB8
In 2017, for the first year, Upward Bound expanded its reach by also including incoming seventh graders. The program is now dubbed UB7 (for rising seventh graders) and UB8 (for eighth graders).
According to Tim Curdt ‘90, English teacher and executive director of Upward Bound Academy, the new UB7 program component has added about 40 more students, along with a new staff dedicated to these young men. In 2017, Upward Bound Academy (comprised of UB7 and UB8) had a full roster of about 130 boys from 53 different grade schools (36 Catholic schools).
UB7 offers a distinct Field Biology and Outdoor Awareness component, while UB8 offers a St. Louis History class and Robotics curriculum. Both include math, literature, writing and problem solving, as well as daily opportunities for outdoor fun and healthy group competition.
Upward Bound also incorporates the enduring Jesuit tradition and spiritual vision as part of its program that, according to Curdt, “cultivates resilient mindsets for growth and challenge and executive functioning skills like metacognition, self-awareness and organization.”
Curdt, Missey and veteran Upward Bound leader Chuck Hussung (now UB7 Principal) are deeply passionate about the program, its mission and the students they serve. Combined, they have 80 years of involvement with the program. They are among several others—notably Assistant Principal for Mission Jim Linhares (former leader of Walkabout), English teacher Sean O’Brien ’98, social studies teacher Tom Zinselmeyer ’99 and Dan Dorsey ’91—who have a longstanding commitment to the program.
“Upward Bound is an incredible opportunity for the teachers as well as students,” says Missey. “It’s like a learning lab, a testing ground. We are able to tinker and experiment with lessons and teaching techniques, and then apply some of these same concepts to our own curriculum during the regular school year. We get just as much out of it as the students.”
The program is perhaps best summed up by Darryl Jones ’73, Upward Bound alumnus and member of SLUH’s Board of Trustees. He grew up in the Ville neighborhood and went to public school at Phillip J. Hickey Elementary.
“Upward Bound is like a gift to the City of St. Louis,” he says. “It challenges and prepares students academically, cultivates their spirituality and develops them socially by integrating them with those from different areas and ethnic backgrounds.”
Video interviews by Bob St. Vrain '63 (SLUH Archive)