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Idaho High School Students Get A Taste Of College Life

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

About 120 high school students are staying in the Boise State dorms, taking classes, and eating in the student union. And that’s going on at more than 900 other campuses across the country including at Idaho State and University of Idaho.

It’s part of a program to help kids from low-income families prepare for college. It’s called Upward Bound, and is part of the federal TRiO programs. Even though the program has been around for nearly 50 years, high school students are learning new technology during their summer at Boise State.

The Class

Ten students are taking a class on smart phone app design from Yu-Chang Hsu. Most of the time Hsu teaches grad students in Boise State’s Educational Technology Department, but last summer he created the app class for Upward Bound.

“The comments I get usually are ‘it’s fun,’” Hsu says. “I say ‘why is it fun?’ They say ‘I can put together something that’s never been done before. And I can see the results right away.’”

Hsu says the class is not just about the skills of app design. He says programing is the best way he knows to teach basic problem solving skills.

The Students

High school Senior Shaleeni is one of two students back for a second year in the course. The app she designed last year won her a state competition and took her to nationals.

She’s president of her school’s chapter of Business Professionals of America, which holds competitions in business and technical disciplines. Her app is to help members of her team when they go to competitions. It will help them keep track of where they’re supposed to be and let their advisor track their movements. She’s trying to work out how to make the app send everyone a wakeup call at the same time, because she says, “Often times teenagers, we’re not very good at waking up.”

Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio
Taylor's (left) app is a game in which the user looks at different styles of mustache because she says, “well, I like mustaches.”

Sophomore Taylor isn’t one of the students who have developed a love of programing. She says she’ll never design an app again. But she says she is learning valuable lessons.

“I’m really getting more of a sense of what college is really going to be like,” she says. “Everyone says college is so fun, but the reality is it’s really hard."

Taylor says the challenge isn’t scaring her away. She plans to major in pre-law.

Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio
Hunter lives in rural Idaho. His district has two schools.

Hunter is another sophomore who is learning that college will be harder than he thought. But he says he’s enjoying the challenge. He’s learning that he can do more than he ever thought he could. He also likes app design and is considering a career in computers. His app is a game. The user controls a rat that tries to eat while dodging a snake trying to eat him.

The Program

Like Taylor and Hunter, many students who join Upward Bound don’t have a clear idea what college will be like. The program focuses particularly on kids who will be the first in their families to go to college. They often lack educational role models and may not know people who have done things like fill out a college application or apply for financial aid.

Nationally the program claims great success. The Pell Institute says participants are 50 percent more likely to get a degree than similar students who don’t join. Other studies put it at four times as likely. Boise State says 85 percent of its Upward Bound participants go on to college. Last year the university got a $5.7 million federal grant to keep its program going for the next five years.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio