Adia Mason has dreams.
The 16-year-old from Catonsville wants to double major in nursing and psychology and hopes to become a neonatal nurse. She wants to minor in business and marketing and ultimately start a business to help the mentally disabled.
A rising junior at Milford Mill Academy, Delaware State University is at the top of her college list, but going into high school she wasn't sure how to make those dreams a reality.
Without help from the Community College of Baltimore County's Upward Bound program, she said she'd be lost. A teacher recommended the program to Adia and she joined her freshman year. She called it a blessing in disguise.
It has helped her stay focused and goal-oriented, with an eye on the prize — a bachelor's degree.
"That was a gift from God getting in this program," she said.
The year-round program is based at CCBC's Catonsville campus. During the school year, Upward Bound hosts Saturday tutoring sessions, and when schools are closed, it offers other programs. During spring break, students are able to go on college visits out of state.
On the walls of program director Sherron Edwards' office are several pennants of the colleges the students have visited through Upward Bound. Outside her office are brochures from different colleges for students to investigate.
But in the summer, the program kicks into high gear, Edwards said.
For six weeks, students get a college experience, staying at University of Maryland Baltimore County dorms and taking specialized courses on the campus of CCBC in a variety of subjects, including history, Spanish, theater, English and science. The classes are taught by teachers in the Baltimore and Howard county school systems.
"One of my goals as a teacher is to make sure [students] have all the information so when they go in there in the fall, they're like, 'We already know this' and they're ahead of the game," said Kerry Martin, a Howard County science teacher, shortly before giving a lesson on atoms. He said he enjoys seeing students come back to him telling him they get A's and B's in their first quarter back in school.
The program, which started nationally as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, started at CCBC in 1987, Edwards said.
Upward Bound is free for participants. Two-thirds of the 76 students in the program qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch and come from families in which neither parent has a bachelor's degree, Edwards said. The other third meets one of those two criteria. On a national level, 61,361 students took part in the U.S. Department of Education program in fiscal 2015, with an average of $4,293 per student, according to the department.
Students also are able to earn college credit through Upward Bound, giving them a boost before they enroll.
For Lansdowne High School rising senior Kendra Cooper, 17, of Woodlawn, the program could be what's needed for her to be the first in her family to graduate from college. The program has helped her make friends and decide that she wants to go to college.
"I feel like going to college is not only an important step for me, but I do want to have a family when I get older, and for my future children, I want them to have a better life than I had," she said. "I feel like me going to college will provide that for them."
While students have been able to take college courses in the past through the program, this summer is the first time a dedicated Upward Bound college course has been offered.
CCBC adjunct professor Charles Shimonkevitz teaches English 101 to 11 Upward Bound students four days a week. He said it's fun for him to come to class each day because the students are motivated.
He has enjoyed teaching the high school students to the point where he wants to permanently teach the cohort each summer.
"It's not like they're taking the class because they have to take it because they failed," he said about the high school students. "They're taking it because they want to take it and the attitude is much better."
Tony Winston, 25, got involved in Upward Bound following his freshman year of high school. At the time, he was homeless and needed a place to focus on his schoolwork.
It was at Upward Bound's summer program where he took an interest in science. When he went back to high school, he got his first B, in biology.
He called Upward Bound a safe haven.
"This completely changed the dynamics of who I was as a student and a young adult," he said. "It gave me the spark I needed that I could still be successful despite everything I've got going on."
After graduating high school early, he attended North Carolina A&T and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a degree in computer information technology. He now teaches technology at a middle school in North Carolina.
Since 2012, Winston has returned to Baltimore County to work for Upward Bound during the summers. He is now the assistant director for the resident hall and also teaches a business class. It's his way to help motivate teens who face situations similar to his.
Moving forward, Edwards, the program director, wants to expand Upward Bound and double enrollment. The program is in the fourth year of a five-year grant from the Department of Education. Edwards will need to head to Washington to seek funding.
For the class of 2016, all the Upward Bound seniors achieved proficient scores on state-mandated assessment tests in reading/language arts and math.
All Upward Bound participants have continued to participate in school for the next grade level or have graduated.
All the participants in the class of 2016 who graduated are either enrolled or have deferred enrollment in a post-secondary education program by the fall. Edwards tracks students six years out of high school to see whether they have graduated. More than 70 percent of the class of 2015 had a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or better.
When it comes to education, the staff is strict, Mason said.
"It keeps us intact and disciplined," she said. "We'll always be ready for college and whatever comes our way."