Union County University Program Roles With COVID Changes

UNION COUNTY, NC – A Union County University prep program designed to spark interest in STEM degrees and careers has had to reinvent itself this summer thanks to COVID-19.

The TRIO Upward Bound math and science program, led by Bishop Osco Gardin at his New Covenant Community Development Center, allows students to take core classes each morning for five weeks during a summer program, then d ” have elective courses.

Elective courses include a preparation course for the SAT, as well as robotics. At the end of the five weeks, students go on a university tour to get a taste of the campus experience. This year, they visited schools in South Carolina after COVID-19 made it difficult to visit Washington, DC area schools as originally planned.

This was just one of many changes caused by the pandemic, which impacted this year’s program.

When Michelle Jimenez’s mother asked her to spend six weeks in a summer program, Jimenez, soon to be in her final year of high school, was not impatient at first.

“I was unsure about that, I didn’t really want to, because you know, it’s school. I wanted to end this. And it’s summer, supposed to have fun, ”Jimenez said during a robotic break.

But five weeks later, she’s glad she did.

” I do not regret it. I really like it here. I have met so many new people and everyone here is so warm and welcoming. And I just— I fell in love with this program, I love it, I’m just glad I joined you know !? Jimenez added.

The program is open and intended for first generation students, from low income families, in grades 9-11.

For Jimenez, she hopes this is a preview of what is to come in her future education.

“I’m really excited, ready to go to college, you know?” Start a whole new life, start shaping my life, have my stuff and everything. I have always been independent too. So really excited for that, ”Jimenez said.

Jimenez is a rising senior in Union County, hoping to one day become a police detective.

“I always wanted to be a police inspector. Growing up, I had a difficult childhood, I had a few… things going on. I’ve been involved with cops all the time, so cops have actually been a big part of my life, ”Jimenez added.

Usually three weeks of the program take place on the Wingate University campus so that students can have the full university experience. This means that they would stay in dormitories, keep a rotating schedule, and eat in mess rooms.

Thanks to COVID-19, the element on campus could not happen this summer. Instead, Gardin hosted the students for the five weeks at his New Covenant center, located next to his church, Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church.

Jimenez would be the first person on his mother’s side to go to college. It is a responsibility that she does not take lightly, knowing that she sets an example for her cousins.

“I know it’s not easy. I know you go there without knowing anything, ”Jimenez said with a laugh.

She still got a taste of the college experience. This year’s summer program concluded with a tour of colleges in South Carolina, particularly those located in the Charleston area.

In the past, the program has visited schools in cities like Atlanta and New Orleans.

“They have no experience or knowledge of what university is. Their parents have no experience or knowledge of what college is. So we’re trying to give them that experience by placing them on the college campus, ”Gardin said of the program.

Currently there are around 50 children enrolled in the program as it is about to start its fifth year of school. The TRIO Upward Bound Math and Science program is funded by the United States Department of Education.

During the school year, the program offers regular tutoring and Academic Saturdays two weekends per month.

Gardin said that since he started the program in 2016, all students are still enrolled in the university except for one who joined the military.

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