Valon Jones, ICC Upward Bound project director, and Gayle Chapman, ICC Upward Bound program specialist, recently took on the exciting task of taking 12 area high school seniors on the trip of a lifetime to beautiful, sunny — and a little rainy — Puerto Rico. The group left March 17 and returned March 21 visiting New and Old San Juan, took a sunset cruise of San Juan Bay, spent a day at the beach, ate local cuisine, toured a college and spent the day at the El Yunque Rainforest on a hike and tour.

Jones explained how the trip came to fruition, "Upward Bound is under the TRIO umbrella and the University of Puerto Rico actually has TRIO programs. A lot of the professional conferences are in Puerto Rico and Avila University's Upward Bound decided they wanted to go to Puerto Rico so in August they sent out a huge announcement to Kansas area schools saying, 'Would anybody's Upward Bound be interested in going over spring break?' "

Schools included on the trip were Kansas Poly Tech (K-State Salina), University of Kansas, Avila and ICC, "But in September we realized their spring break was the week before ours so they actually went as a large group a week ahead and since we had already told the students and they were so excited that we just went for it," said Jones.

Chapman said with a laugh, "So we took 12." 

"Our students are very lucky," said Jones. "They actually get paid to be in our program but they didn't have to use that money for the trip. We have an educational trip budgeted into our yearly budget. So we used some of that money to go to Puerto Rico and then with a smaller portion we are taking the remainder of our kids (9-11 grade) to Oklahoma City in the summer." 

Only seniors that met requirements were able to travel to Puerto Rico. Requirements consisted of attending 75 percent of all Upward Bound activities throughout the year, have an accumulative GPA of 2.5 or above and they had to be enrolled in a rigorous high school program of study which is actually the Kansas Scholars Program. Not all seniors qualified and paperwork had to be turned in on time. 

"They also had to participate in Upward Bound Summer Camp every year that they were in Summer Fest so if they missed a summer they did not qualify," Jones said.

Ten of the 12 seniors had never been on an airplane. The group flew out of Kansas City and the plane ride itself was a major experience for them. "There were some tears," said Jones. "And there were some covering up with a blanket," said Chapman. But after the first leg of the flight, the kids felt good about it. 

"We landed in San Juan in the dark so they didn't get to see much then," said Chapman. 

The next day the group began their tour of Puerto Rico by doing a walking tour of Old and New San Juan where they got to see historical forts and churches, they shopped at local shops, during the sunset cruise, students were allowed to shoot cannons at the fort and work the sails on the sailboat.

"The streets there are just so narrow," said Chapman.

"We had awesome Puerto Rican sandwiches," said Jones. 

The group ate items they had never tasted before such as plantain bananas and they also learned that fried chicken in Puerto Rico is quite different from fried chicken in the states. 

The group spent one whole day at the beach and Chapman said with a smile, "It was beautiful."

"And again, probably nine or 10 of our students had never been to a beach," said Jones. 

The group ate lunch on the beach as there were food stands all along it.

While touring the rain forest, lo and behold, the rain was torrential which the group was told was not normal. Chapman said, "It rained and rained. It was a downpour, it wasn't just rain."

Added Jones, "It was like flash floods. He said that was very uncommon, he said usually in the rain forest it will rain just a tiny bit but torrential downpours like that in the rain forest don't usually happen at least during that season. Hurricane season — yes, but not in March."

The last day the group visited the University of Puerto Rico San Juan and one student is actually planning on attending the college after experiencing the culture and beauty.

The Upward Bound program provides fundamental support to participating students in preparation for college entrance. It provides opportunities for the students to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. They serve high school students from low income families and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. Their goal is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in, and graduate from, institutions of postsecondary education.